"Navjot Sidhu Barbs Don't Augur Well," Amarinder Singh Tells Sonia Gandhi

On Monday Navjot Sidhu cornered Amarinder Singh's government over inaction against Akali Dal's Bikram Majithia and others allegedly involved in a 2018 drug case

New Delhi:

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday complained to Sonia Gandhi that Navjot Sidhu's criticism of his government "does not augur well for smooth functioning" as he met with the Congress president days after a fragile truce with his in-house rival.

Sonia Gandhi reportedly stressed that the Chief Minister and Navjot Sidhu, who was recently appointed Punjab Congress chief as part of a peace deal ahead of the state polls, must work together.

She directed that "both the state government and the Congress unit in Punjab must work together and not on cross purposes", said Congress's Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat after the meeting.

The meeting precedes an anticipated cabinet reshuffle in Punjab and comes in the midst of strong indications that the feud between the Congress's top two in the state is far from over.

Weeks after Amarinder Singh grudgingly accepted the cricketer-turned-politician's appointment as leader of the party's state unit, tweets by Mr Sidhu threaten to undo the hard-won truce.

Mr Sidhu on Monday resumed his attack on his party's government over inaction against Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia and others, all of whom were allegedly involved in a 2018 drug trafficking case.

"Punishing the culprits behind the drug trade is the Congress's priority under the 18-Point Agenda. What is the action taken on Majithia? If further delayed, we will bring a resolution in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for making the reports public," he tweeted.

Mr Sidhu also lashed out at his party government's apparent inability to tackle the drug problem; he did so without naming the Chief Minister.

Mr Rawat said Mrs Gandhi took stock of the work done to fulfill promises of the Congress, perhaps a reference to Mr Sidhu's tweet.

The Chief Minister, aka "Captain", apprised Mrs Gandhi about his government's efforts in resolving the power crisis and cracking down on the drug mafia. Mr Singh also talked about giving more representation to Dalits in his cabinet, said the Congress leader.

Constant barbs and critical comments by Mr Sidhu aimed at Mr Singh have been one of the major flashpoints in a political row that has threatened (and continues to threaten) to wreck the Congress' attempt to win re-election in Punjab next year.

After extended negotiations between Camp Sidhu, Camp Amarinder Singh and a three-man peace-making team nominated by Mrs Gandhi, a compromise was reached.

This included increased representation to Dalits and promises from the Chief Minister to address rebel MLAs concerns; these ranged from the state's power crisis to a 2015 case about the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib.

The Chief Minister also demanded a greater say in the party's state affairs ahead of the election, and a public apology from Mr Sidhu - which the former cricketer has yet to make.

The feud dates back to the 2017 election, when the former cricketer hoped to be made Deputy Chief Minister but was reportedly denied the post by Mr Singh.

Navjot Sidhu, the Congress's star campaigner in that election, instead became a minister in the Amarinder Singh government but quit two years later after his ministry was downgraded.

After prolonged silence and detachment from party affairs, he began re-targeting the Captain in recent months, becoming a hard-to-ignore problem in the run-up to the Punjab election.