With Gandhis’ backing, Sidhu gets exactly what he wants
Until the very last minute, Captain Amarinder Singh, who is a rare specimen of Congress – a leader with a mass of supporters in the North – pleaded his case against his rival Navjot Singh Sidhu. Without success. Acting on what had become very clear, party chairperson Sonia Gandhi decided that Sidhu, 57, would become the party’s Punjab unit leader just months before Amarinder Singh sought re-election.
So, for his daily tantrums against the chief minister – and his tweets that seemed to side with the opposition Aam Aadmi party – Sidhu was rewarded. Letters, meetings and a final face-saving attempt – that Sidhu be forced to publicly apologize for his rant – by the chief minister were not simply circumvented but flatly rejected.
The Gandhi’s hear the new developments serve as a detente for the Punjab, which for nearly four months saw Congress subsumed by Sidhu’s demand for a lead role. Instead, the family asked two incompatible leaders, both openly working against each other, not only to coexist but to co-manage the complex election. Who will have the final say in deciding the party’s candidates – both sides play rival supporters; even if Sidhu’s comments about the prime minister’s incompetence, secret political affiliations and more dry up a bit, what is the guarantee that he won’t come back rehydrated? Regarding teamwork, it is poorly accredited. He left the BJP in 2017 because he was upset that he had been denied the seat in Amritsar. He joined Congress with the personal management of the Gandhi siblings – Rahul and Priyanka – and a year later challenged Amarinder Singh to attend Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, where he was pictured performing hug the head of the Pakistani army. Sidhu’s rude response to the chief minister’s admonition was, “Which captain? He’s an army captain, but my captain is Rahul Gandhi. He was the one who sent me to Pakistan. Sidhu resigned from the cabinet after a portfolio reshuffle in 2019 with his resignation letter addressed to Rahul Gandhi.
Before joining Congress – or rather, while in talks with them – he also secretly met Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi party finished second in the elections. Prashant Kishor, in his then avatar of a political consultant, had persuaded Sidhu that Congress was a better bet. So, Sidhu’s commitment is largely to himself – as a minister, he refused to give up his TV show, saying he needed it to maintain his way of life.
Considering the downsides, it’s unclear what gives him the allure that encourages the Gandhis to please him. Unless its value lies in giving the Gandhi siblings a counterpoint to Amarinder Singh, who always had a much more comfortable equation with their mother than they did. In 2017, Rahul Gandhi, who then officially called the shots as president, was firmly against the declaration of Amarinder Singh as the alleged chief minister. Singh has publicly stated that he has decided to go out and present his own regional outfit, but an intervention from Sonia Gandhi has allowed his son to return. This time around, it was Priyanka Gandhi who worked hard for her family to ensure Sidhu was upgraded. Therefore, the meeting a few days ago which was quickly tweeted by Sidhu to prove his close access to the party’s ultimate decision-makers at a time when the captain was humiliated by being forced to appear before a three-member committee tasked with defuse the crisis.
What has helped Sidhu push his agenda forward is the perception that Amarinder Singh will run for office with considerable headwinds of opposition to power, and that he has been an unattainable leader for much of his time. mandate to deputies of Congress. Thus, the leaders of Congress who have gathered around Sidhu – representing around 60% of the deputies – are not united by their faith in his parallel leadership but, to a certain extent, by their own experience and ambition for more roles. important. The Gandhis would have calculated that a larger frontline role for Sidhu would somehow separate the party from Amarinder Singh’s unpopularity.
The big step forward for Sidhu also serves another purpose: to force a succession plan in the Punjab. The captain is now 79 years old. In 2017, he said it would be his last election. A term in power has whetted his appetite for more. Sidhu, like many heads of state, will be the natural face of the Chief Minister once Singh retires. Congress has claimed in the past – but with little evidence – that in states like Madhya Pradesh it is aiming for a similar transition with a veteran leader like Kamal Nath and a junior counterpart like Jyotiraditya Scindia.
The two junior Gandhis also want veteran party leaders to know that they will no longer tolerate regional satraps who ignore their instructions or strategy.
Singh was informed that Sidhu, with the support of the Gandhi family, was gaining the support of MPs and party deputies. His supporters persuaded him that it was time to stop fighting Sidhu and fighting for tickets for his loyalists.
At the end of last week, Rahul Gandhi’s ultimatum to quit the party if you’re afraid was also a message to recalcitrant senior leaders. Indeed, the brothers and sisters regain control of the vintage Sonia Congress. Will it pay off? Their delivery to election-related states has been established as a risky proposition. Sources close to Amarinder Singh say he communicated to the Gandhis that it was up to them to ensure that Sidhu, whom he calls “the Joker in the pack”, does not cost them the Punjab elections. Make sure Sidhu sticks to his own path? Guess that.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman, and The Hindustan Times.)
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