‘Congress culture of keeping alive dissidence not dead’
As the suspense continues over Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu taking charge of his new Ministry amid the ongoing tussle with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, the rift between the two leaders seems to be growing wider with the former cricketer visiting New Delhi to meet Congress president Rahul Gandhi.As part of the post-poll Cabinet reshuffle last week, Capt. Amarinder divested Mr. Sidhu of the key Local Government portfolio and allocated him Power and New and Renewable Energy Sources.Mr. Sidhu, who met Mr. Gandhi, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and veteran leader Ahmed Patel on Monday, is learnt to have apprised the “high command” of being “singled out unfairly” in the Cabinet rejig on the pretext of the party’s “poor performance” in urban areas of the State in the general election.Mr. Gandhi’s meeting with Mr. Sidhu has drawn criticism from political analysts. “Mr. Sidhu’s audience with the high command hints that Congress’s culture of keeping alive dissidence at the State level against the State leadership is not dead,” said Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science at Panjab University. “Capt. Amarinder, after the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, has emerged as a strong leader and, on the other hand, the Congress high command looks weak after its performance in the Lok Sabha polls,” he said. “Any effort to push for reinstatement of Mr. Sidhu as the Local Government Minister in an attempt to resolve the ongoing tussle in the State unit risks undermining the Chief Minister’s authority and further worsening the rift within the party in Punjab,” he added.Cong. downplays riftThe State Congress, however, downplayed the significance of Mr. Sidhu’s meeting, with Asha Kumari, the AICC in-charge of Punjab affairs, asserting that every Congressman was “entitled” to meet the party president. “As far as his [Mr. Sidhu’s] taking charge of the new portfolio is concerned, if Mr. Sidhu does not desire, it’s entirely his wish. He [Mr. Sidhu] is a Minister of Capt. Amarinder’s Cabinet and it’s for the Chief Minister to decide who will hold which portfolio,” she said.Ronki Ram, Dean at the Department of Social Science at Panjab University, said Mr. Sidhu’s meeting with the party’s central leadership appeared like an attempt at capturing a “power stronghold”. “If the CM has to take decision on the dictation of the party high command, it’s not in good taste. This shows the party is highly centralised,” he said.The two Punjab leaders have been at loggerheads in recent months with Mr. Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu accusing Capt. Amarinder of blocking her Lok Sabha candidacy from Chandigarh. Later, the Chief Minister had claimed that “Sidhu’s remarks ahead of polling” had affected the party’s performance. He had also blamed Mr. Sidhu’s “poor handling” of the key local bodies portfolio as a factor for the Congress’s “poor performance” in urban areas. Mr. Sidhu had retorted by asserting that he was being “singled out publicly” even though the urban areas had played a critical role in the party’s victory in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress won eight of the 13 seats it contested, improving on its 2014 tally of just three.