PUNJAB Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu is a man in a hurry. As a cabinet minister, he took on the extremely powerful Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh over the latter’s perceived reluctance to act against the family of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal over issues of corruption, drug smuggling and sacrilege.
After the high command finally gave in to his demand and indicated to Amarinder that his time was up, Sidhu thought the crown was finally his to wear. But that was not to be and he lost out to Charanjit Singh Channi, Punjab’s first Dalit Chief Minister. Channi made it past the finish line only due to the backing of Sidhu, who didn’t want any other Jat Sikh – Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa – to be appointed the Chief Minister.
Sidhu, however, decided to ignore the fact that he had been overlooked and agreed to work closely with Channi, even travelling with him to New Delhi to consult with the high command over choice of ministers and top bureaucrats.
But Sidhu’s honeymoon with Channi was extremely short-lived and relations between the two soured in less than a week after the high command, upset over the growing perception that Sidhu was behaving as ‘Super Chief Minister’, told Channi in clear words that he should counter the perception through actions.
Given a free hand, Channi soon showed his inexperience, first ignoring Sidhu’s and many of his cabinet colleague’s first choice for DGP, Siddhartha Chattopadhyay, and instead appointing another Dalit, Inder Preet Singh Sahota, as interim DGP.
Many in Punjab Congress were not amused that the Chief Minister had chosen as DGP somebody who could not be expected to “deliver” immediate results, specially in the war on drugs that Sidhu wanted to be made the top agenda point of the Channi government. It was Chattopadhyay, then in the Vigilance Bureau, who had arrested Parkash Singh Badal in a corruption case in 2003. A few years ago, Chattopadhyay was also appointed head of a special investigation team (SIT) by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to probe the role of senior police officers in the sale of illicit narcotic drugs in Punjab. His report remains in sealed cover with the High Court.
But the break point was Channi’s insistence on appointing senior advocate APS Deol instead of Sidhu’s and, again, several senior party leaders’ first choice, DS Patwalia, as the new Advocate General.
After several days of flip-flops, Channi eventually got his way and Deol, who was till recently appearing as lawyer for controversial former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, in a corruption case was appointed AG yesterday. Saini was shunted out as DGP in October 2015 following the incidence of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and the subsequent firing by the police on protestors at Kotkapura in Faridkot district.
This, sources told India Ahead News, was the last nail in the proverbial coffin and Sidhu realised he was being cornered and that, in not granting him his wish in so far as the picks for DGP and AG were concerned, the high command and the Chief Minister had given away the advantage to the opposition.
Sources close to him also said Sidhu was “uncomfortable” with the decision to bring back former minister and businessman Rana Gurjit Singh into the cabinet, especially since Singh had quit the Capt Amarinder Singh ministry over allegations of involvement in a sand auction scam. Several other MLAs from Doaba region had also publicly opposed Singh’s reinduction.
Asked if Sidhu was planning to quit the Congress altogether and possibly join the Aam Aadmi Party, the source replied in the negative.
“As of now, there is no such plan. Let us see how things go from here. Sidhu ji has taken the decision (to resign as PCC chief) only because he knows Punjab deserves better and he will fight for it,” he added.