Captain Amarinder Singh was given the un-envious task of contesting against Arun Jaitley from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. One morning, at the peak of the election campaign, inadvertently or otherwise, the two opponents bumped into each other at the city’s famed Company Bagh.
When badgered by reporters to elaborate on his exchange with Jaitley, Amrinder summed up his brief meeting with the BJP candidate with a quintessential one-liner.
“I welcomed my friend from Delhi”; the former CM obliged to the waiting cameras and moved on.
That’s as much politics one can possibly pack in a sentence. Amritsar elections soon became a local vs outsider battle. Jaitley- the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha lost by a fair margin. And Amrinder Singh became the Deputy Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha.
Jaitley’s first experiment with direct elections came a cropper. BJP’s decision to replace the sitting MP Navjot Singh Sidhu- an implacable challenger to Shiromani Akali Dal under the Badal’s- had clearly not gone down well with the electorate. That election was the first trigger which led to Sidhu’s final exit from the BJP.
Seven years on, Sidhu remains the challenger within. The anti-establishment within the establishment. As he was during the Akali-BJP regime between 2007 to 2017.
Drafted into Congress just ahead of the last assembly polls, the cricketer turned politician has had an uneasy relationship with the Captain from the word go.
And in their own inimitable styles, the chief minister and his chief detractor have in the last four years put on display one of the finest exhibitions of word play and power politics. A fencing duel of sorts with sudden lunges and defiant riposte.
The first confrontation was perhaps triggered with Sidhu hogging all the limelight ahead of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor; and his presence at the swearing in of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Amrinder Singh waited for the right moment to cut his minister to size. And he did it from the position of strength by becoming the most successful Congress chief minister to send 10 MPs to the Lok Sabha from Punjab.
The chief minister effected a reshuffle to divest Sidhu of Local Bodies Department. Sidhu resigned in protest.
He remained under the radar for almost two years, choosing the timing and occasion to open a new front on Baisakhi day this year. The former minister paid a surprise visit to the Gurudwara in Faridkot district, the epicentre of the sacrilege case which led to firing at Kotkapura. His visit came close on the heels of Punjab and Haryana the high court quashing the police probe in the incident.
Ever since the two sides have cautiously prepared for the denouement.
With others rhyming into the growing chorus against the chief minister’s style of functioning, the Congress central leadership stepped in about a month back to form a three-member committee. The detractors used the opportunity to underscore problems with CM’s style of functioning.
Committee in its report sought Sidhu to be ‘adequately adjusted’.
But how adequate is adequate? And who would one quantify the adequacy of adjustment? Multiple formulae have since been floated to calibrate a balance of power.
It was suggested that Sidhu be inducted a deputy CM. An option which suits Captain Amrinder Singh. After all the hullabaloo, his chief detractor would still be working under him.
Additionally, the CM could also have convinced the high command to appoint not one but two deputy CM- a dalit or a Hindu. Just to maintain a social balance in his government.
But it seems the Sidhu camp was more interested in taking charge of the organisation. As Pradesh Congress Committee President, one has a lot more say in candidate selection.
To scuttle any such move, the old guards rallied around the CM. New alignments emerged. Known baiters turned friends after clandestine meetings which were duly denied. Former State President Pratap Singh Bajwa emerged to articulate all this in a press conference one fine Sunday morning in Chandigarh.
“No colonel should become general overnight” was the gist of his argument.
It is another matter that the reported truce among the old guards has triggered a parallel controversy. Opposition has accused CM of buying loyalty by appointing Bajwa’s nephew as an Inspector in Punjab police. The nephew has since turned down the offer.
In the last one week, CM’s camp fired yet another salvo by holding a much-publicised meeting of Hindu leaders. The grievances were patiently heard and solutions offered. It was resolved also that they should strike a balance in the appointment of PCC chief. If the chief minister is a Jat Sikh, should the PCC top post go to another community?
After all this churning, Captain Amrinder Singh is back in Delhi this week to meet the high command for a final resolution of the festering divisions within Punjab Congress.
In its bid to keep the house in order, party leadership would want the CM to take everyone along. The question is how does one ‘adequately adjust’ Navjot Singh Sidhu. And how much is the chief minister willing to concede.
The super over in the tied T-20 match in Punjab Congress will be bowled this week in Delhi.