- Sidhu has to emulate Revanth Redddy
- His brief must be jodo instead of thodo
This time around, the Congress high command has changed its track and opted for the young challenger and appointed Navjot Singh Sidhu as Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President in spite of negative signals from Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. Unlike in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the chief ministers were backed against the young leaders who mounted mutiny, in Punjab it was the chief minister who was let down. Whether the decision made by Sonia Gandhi, Congress president, is right or wrong would be known only when the results of next year assembly election are announced. Given the uncompromising stand taken by both Amarinder Singh and Sidhu, the central leadership of the party was seen vacillating for a long time before it decided to dump the chief minister.
Sidhu talks about his father
Sidhu in a tweet on Monday morning thanked the Gandhi family for the “pivotal responsibility “ and said his “journey has just begun.” When he said his father had left royalty and joined the freedom struggle, he appeared to be taking a swipe at Captain Amarinder Singh whose father ruled the former princely state of Patiala. “To share prosperity, privilege and freedom not just among a few but among all, my father, a Congress worker, left royal household and joined the freedom struggle, was sentenced to death for his patriotic work reprieved by King’s Amnesty became DCC President, MLA, MLC and Advocate General(sic),” Sidhu wrote in his tweet.
“Today, to work further for the same dream and strengthen the invincible fort of the Congress, Punjab, I am grateful to Hon’ble Congress President Sonia Gandhi Ji, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Ji for bestowing their faith in me and giving me this pivotal responsibility,” he tweeted.
Amarinder yet to react
Amarinder Singh is yet to react to the decision of the high command to appoint Navjot Sidhu as PCC president but his objections are well known. He has been saying that Sidhu should publicly apologise for frontally attacking him for months. The apology is not likely to be tendered. But some efforts would surely be made to appease the chief minister who must have been cut up with Sonia’s decision. Sonia did not meet the delegation of MPs who were planning, at CM’s behest, to express their opposition to the appointment of Sidhu who is labelled as the “BJP reject.” The Congress high command appeared weak when Sidhu was left high and dry delaying a decision on his appointment and the chief minister insisting on apology. Then it thought enough is enough and acted in a resolute manner. It ended the dream of Aam Aadmi Party which has been waiting in the wings for Sidhu to join.
Kamalnath close to Gandhis
Why did Sonia opt for Sidhu? One has to understand the MP and Rajasthan decisions first in order to arrive at an answer to the question. In MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia had more MLAs and ministers with him than what Sidhu has (not more than six including three ministers) in Punjab. In Rajasthan too, Sachin Pilot had about 16-20 MLAs with him when he revolted against Ashok Gehlot. But Kamalnath, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh enjoyed the good books of the first family. Moreover, the political influence of Scindia is limited to Gwalior region while Kamalnath has pan-MP clout. He also had former chief minister Digvijay Singh with him. Scindia has been talking to BJP leaders while putting pressure on the party high command to accommodate him in an honourable way. For Rajya Sabha seat, old guard Digvijay Singh was preferred to the scion of Scindias. Kamalnath was always in communication with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Jyotiraditya was close to only Rahul Gandhi while Kamalnath has good terms with all the Gandhis.
Also read: Punjab Congress crisis deepens
Gehlot proved to be a tough leader
In case of Rajasthan, the chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, had proved to be resourceful and combative. He outsmarted the young Pilot by weaning away some MLAs from the latter’s camp. He was also talking to Sonia and Rahul regularly while Sachin was waiting for their appointment. Ashok Gehlot could repel the attack by BJP through an indecisive Pilot who was not fully trusted by saffron leaders. Pilot also was not contemplating doing a Scindia. He wanted to put pressure on the high command. Being a son-in-law of Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu & Kashimir, Sachin pilot cannot join the BJP as easily as Scindia, whose grandmother, aunts have been sailing with the BJP. Further, the first family of the Congress could persuade Sachin to stay back and wait for his day. Sachin is utterly unhappy with the party’s central leadership but he has to grin and bear.
In case of Punjab, the scenario was different. Sidhu was always in touch with Sonia and her children. He met them more times than the captain. He was with Priyanka for four hours. Then he met Rahul. He jelled well with Sonia Gandhi and her family. Though he has less number of MLAs with him, Sidhu has pan-Punjab image and he has been talking about the right issues while fighting against the CM. Prashant Kishor (PK), the poll strategist, also must have advised Sonia Gandhi to go with the younger leader since Amarinder is not as communicative as Sidhu and the former, at 78 years, is not getting any younger. It was PK who brought Sidhu into the Congress weeks before 2017 elections. PK has also been sailing with Amarider Singh for the last four and half years. The poll strategist knows the strong points and weak points of both the pugilists.
Would Sidhu be inclusive?
It is for Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka and PK to push Sidhu to make amends with Amarinder and be friendly with him forgetting and forgiving whatever happened in the last four years. Should there be split in the party engineered by the captain, the party high command would throw its weight with Sidhu. There could be split in the ruling party if the chief minister remains stubborn. The anti-incumbency that was visible in case of Amarinder Singh was also a factor that tilted the scales in favour of the former cricketer.
Among the four working presidents of PCC appointed by the high command, one is loyal to the chief minister and others are neutral. Sonia Gandhi is likely to counsel patience and ask Amarinder to prepare himself to hand over the reins to Sidhu after the elections instead of fighting against the young colleague at advanced age. The captain may be offered a party post at national level after the elections due in early 2022. Should he refuse to budge, so be it. The battle for Punjab is only months away and Sidhu would be given full charge.
Revanth Reddy’s example
There has been a clear trend perceptible in Sonia Gandhi’s decisions of late. In Telangana State, which is very important for the Congress where it has more than 20 per cent of votes, she has favoured Revanth Reddy, as recommended by Manickam Tagore, the general secretary of AICC in charge of TS. Revanth is young and dynamic like Sidhu. Sonia disregarded the claims by old horses like Komatireddy Venkat Reddy. Revanth Reddy came into the Congress only recently from the TDP in which party he was considered very close to its chief Chandrababu Naidu. He has RSS origins. The allegation against Revanth leveled by those leaders who wanted to capture PCC was that he is Naidu’s man. There is a sword dangling above him in the shape of ‘note for vote’ case. Sonia Gandhi had taken a bold decision in appointing Revanth as PCC president who started well by meeting those who have been keeping away from Gandhi Bhavan and who left the party and joined BJP or TRS. On Sunday, he spent a couple of hours with Devendra Goud of the TDP who son had joined the BJP. Revanth has been trying his best to mobilize all the leaders who have Congress blood in them but are parked in different parties for various reasons. Sidhu would do well to emulate Revanth and build bridges with the captain and his followers. His brief has to be jodo instead of thodo.