Amarinder Singh as Punjab chief minister (CM) was, by and large, running an efficient government till the Congress high command started gradually promoting Navjot Singh Sidhu from May 2021. It was at the cost of Amarinder.
On the complaints of Sidhu and a few party MLAs, Amarinder was summoned to Delhi several times in the name of the central leadership of the party reviewing his state government’s works in the last four-odd years based on the last election manifesto.
He failed to get an audience with Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra despite his request while Sidhu not just met the Nehru-Gandhi sibling but also got himself appointed as the Punjab Congress president by removing Sunil Jakhar from the post.
Sidhu kept attacking Amarinder who finally was replaced with Charanjit Singh Channi in September 2021. Amarinder, who felt “humiliated”, called Sidhu an “anti-national” for being friends with Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and that country’s army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa.
He pledged to “do anything” to stop Sidhu from becoming the CM. He formed his own party – Punjab Lok Congress – and has aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa-led SAD (Sanyukt).
The infighting in Congress, instead of waning, has worsened. Some recent incidents have exposed the chinks in the party ruling Punjab.
Security lapse during PM Modi’s Punjab visit
The Congress leaders are divided over the security lapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the election-bound state on December 5. While Channi, Sidhu, and other leaders defended the state government’s role, few senior leaders have expressed regrets for the mishap which exposed Modi’s security details for about 20 minutes on a flyover on way from Bhisiana airport in Bathinda to Hussainiwala in Ferozepur district near the Pakistan border. The PM was on his way to pay his tributes at the National Martyrs’ Memorial.
Punjab Congress election campaign committee chief Sunil Jakhar took a different stand from most of his party leaders. In a tweet shortly after the security breach was reported, he said: “What has happened today is just not acceptable. It’s against Panjabiyat. A secure passage for the Prime Minister of India to address BJP’s political rally in Ferozepur should have been ensured. That’s how democracy works.”
What has happened today is just not acceptable. It’s against Panjabiyat.A secure passage for the Prime Minister… https://t.co/Y7dPQm2svj— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1641382465000
Congress MP from Sri Anandpur Sahib in Punjab Manish Tewari also took a separate stand from the party. While the Channi government has instituted an inquiry by a two-member committee, Tewari demanded a probe into the incident by a sitting high court judge.
In two tweets, Tewari, who is the Congress’s national spokesperson, said: “I have been carefully watching the unfolding controversy about @PMOIndia’s trip to Punjab yesterday. I did not want to give a knee-jerk off-the-cuff anodyne reaction. What happened yesterday was most unfortunate, it should not have happened.
“@PMOIndia’s security is governed by an Act of Parliament – the SPG Act of 1988 as amended in 2019. A security breach involving @PMOIndia is a sensitive matter and should not be turned into a political football. Let the entire sequence of events be enquired into by a sitting judge of the high court to establish the correct facts,” the Congress leader said.
I have been carefully watching the unfolding controversy about @PMOIndia ‘s trip to Punjab Yesterday. I did not wan… https://t.co/tVCQvFu8R2
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) 1641462146000
Tewari was one of the 23 signatories to a letter written to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi by senior dissenting party leaders who demanded a transparent, hands-on, full-time and accessible party chief. The other signatories of the group, called G23, included Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and P Chidambaram.
Sunil Jakhar versus Congress leadership
Sunil Jakhar, who was the Punjab Congress president just before Sidhu and during Amarinder Singh’s latest tenure as the CM, is clearly at loggerheads with the party leadership. Occasionally, he keeps hitting out at Channi, Sidhu, and other leaders.
On January 5, sources said he attended a meeting in Delhi of the party’s screening committee for the selection of candidates for the assembly election. After the party failed to finalise any names, Jakhar is learned to have left for a trip to the US at the peak of campaigning in his state.
On December 23, 2021, he posted a tweet criticising Channi. He said, “People of Punjab can see through the evil designs behind today’s bomb blast coming soon after attempts at desecrations. But they need to be assured of the commitment and ability of the government to maintain peace and harmony. The CM can’t afford to be seen floundering on this account.”
People of Punjab can see through the evil designs behind today’s bomb blast coming soon after attempts at desecrati… https://t.co/XqOjDGpJ5A
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1640275535000
In another tweet, he is taking a jibe at his successor Sidhu.
बुत हम को कहे काफ़िर, अल्लाह की मर्जी है सूरज में लगे धब्बा, फ़ितरत के करिश्में हैं I……….बरकत जो नहीं होती… https://t.co/QeKqvuv3IN
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1637915662000
Once he went on to say “compromised CM”. “The ouster of a competent yet ‘allegedly’ compromised officer has exposed a ‘really’ compromised CM. Giving rise to a pertinent question: Whose government is it anyway? (*Apologies to BBC’s radio drama – Whose line is it anyway),” he tweeted.
The ouster of a competent yet ‘allegedly’ compromised officer has exposed a ‘really’ compromised CM. Giving rise… https://t.co/lhZusrV1UI
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1636525456000
Taking a dig at Sidhu, the then in-charge of Punjab Harish Rawat and Channi, he called them “political pilgrims”. He tweeted, “’Political’ Pilgrims. But each one trying to appease a different Deity.”
‘Political’ Pilgrims But each one trying to appease a different Deity . ਮੈਂ ਤਾਂ ਪੀਰ ਮਨਾਵਨ ਚੱਲੀ ਆਂ!… https://t.co/mTrClIgs4y
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1635834675000
One of his strongest criticisms of Channi was on October 31, 2021 – former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary when the state government missed out on publishing newspaper advertisements on the day. He recalled the day a year ago when Amarinder was the CM and the government had published an ad. He tweeted: “I can understand BJP trying to erase ‘Iron Lady of India’ from history but don’t we still have a Congress Government in Punjab? PS: I know Capt Saab (Amarinder) won’t mind my using this Punjab government’s ad from last year, as none appeared today.”
I can understand BJP trying to erase ‘Iron Lady of India’ from history but don’t we still have a Congress Governmen… https://t.co/5quxEILMvm
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) 1635660176000
If Amarinder as CM was Sidhu’s target earlier, it is Channi now. Despite the change in chief minister in September, the Punjab Congress president is at odds with the person occupying it. Sidhu himself is said to be eyeing the post.
An immense tussle took place between Sidhu and Channi over the appointment of director general of police (DGP) and advocate general (AG). Sidhu protested the appointment of Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota as the state DGP and APS Deol as the AG. He went to the extent of resigning as state Congress president to demand the installation of persons of his choice.
The party succumbed to his pressure. While Siddharth Chattopadhyaya was appointed as the DGP, Deepinder Singh Patwalia was selected as the new AG.
A recent spat took place between the Punjab CM and the state Congress chief over state policemen. Praising two party leaders, Sidhu reportedly said they make policemen “wet their pants”.
Channi retorted to Sidhu’s comments and in a function told the policemen to perform ther duty irrespective of what people say.
Congress may have to pay the price in the upcoming assembly election if the infighting in the party does not end or subside.