Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Thursday claimed that cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu's remarks on Pakistan and the ongoing investigation into the Guru Granth Sahib desecration may have affected the party's performance in urban areas of the state, especially Bathinda. He said he will raise the issue with the Congress high command soon.
Amarinder Singh called for a review of Navjot Sidhu's performance as a minister, and criticised him for making "controversial" remarks in the run-up to elections in the state. "While everyone has the right to promote themselves in a democracy, it was wrong of him to make controversial comments once the battle had started," he said.
Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal defeated the Congress' Amrinder Singh Raja Warring by a margin of 21,772 votes in Bathinda. She described her victory as a "slap on the face of the Congress", which she alleged had launched a "false campaign" against her.
Referring to the cabinet minister's claim that the Congress-led Punjab government had "failed" to take Akali Dal leaders into custody in the Guru Granth Sahib desecration case, Amarinder Singh said he had obviously failed to understand that the special investigation team set up by the Vidhan Sabha was required to complete its probe first.
He also claimed that Navjot Sidhu's show of "yaari and jhappi" (friendship and hugs) with the Pakistan army chief had not gone down well with the public. "How could something like that be tolerated, especially by army personnel who are being killed by Pakistan-backed terrorists?" he asked.
Navjot Singh Sidhu had drawn intense criticism for hugging Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa during a visit to Islamabad for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's oath-taking ceremony last year. Amarinder Singh had not been overly supportive of his trip.
The Punjab Chief Minister then went on to thank the people of the state for handing the Congress with victory in the Lok Sabha elections. However, he said the party would introspect on why it put up a weak performance in Bathinda as well as Sunil Jakhar's loss to Sunny Deol in Gurdaspur. "I do not understand why people preferred to pick a Bollywood star over an experienced leader," he said, hoping that India would evolve into a more mature democracy in the coming years.
He blamed the loss in Hoshiarpur to votes being shifted to the Bahujan Samaj Party, and AAP's Bhagwant Mann's victory in Sangrur to "his own standing among the people". "But overall, the people of Punjab responded well to the government's development and welfare programmes, including its efforts at employment generation and farm debt waiver," said Amarinder Singh.
The Chief Minister said that he does not agree with the brand of nationalism promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and appealed that despite being victorious, he should not "destroy" India's secular credentials. He also questioned the use of electronic voting machines in elections because the possibility of their manipulation cannot be ruled out.
The Congress won eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, leaving four for the BJP. The remaining seat was claimed by a non-aligned candidate.