Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was declared the Punjab Congress chief on Sunday after weeks of infighting and in face of strong opposition by Captain Amarinder Singh, in what was seen a snub to the Chief Minister and party veterans. The sign-off from the central leadership came as a group of MPs supporting the Chief Minister sought to meet party chief Sonia Gandhi and put forward their views.
The order from party General Secretary KC Venugopal also named four Working Presidents instead of the expected three. The names showed the party balancing out the elevation of Mr Sidhu by meeting Mr Singh's demand of keeping focus on Hindus and Dalits.
But none of them was vetted by Mr Singh, sources said, in an outright disregard of the Chief Minister's pre-conditions to accept Mr Sidhu's elevation. Mr Singh had sought to be involved in key decisions ahead of the state polls and given a free hand with the appointment of Working Presidents.
All of Mr Singh's riders to the elevation were violated, sources said. Even his demand of a public apology from Mr Sidhu regarding his disparaging tweets was not met.
The Working Presidents named on Sunday were Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Kuljit Nagra and Pawan Goyal.
Sources said while Mr Gilzian was one of the disaffected MLAs who accused Mr Singh's government of not doing anything for Dalits, Mr Danny is seen as a supporter of the Chief Minister. Mr Nagra, sources said, has the ear of Rahul Gandhi.
Mr Nagra later tweeted:
My heartfelt thanks to INC President Smt #SoniaGandhi ji, @RahulGandhi ji and @INCIndia High Command on appointing me as the Working President of @INCPunjab— Kuljit Nagra (@kuljitnagra1) July 18, 2021
I will try my best to live up to the trust shown in me and serve the Party and the people of State to my best capacity. pic.twitter.com/YHnOZSCNtC
The last two days had passed in a flurry of meetings by both sides to consolidate their positions, despite the peace formula offered by the Gandhis after detailed consultation with Mr Sidhu and Mr Singh.
While Mr Sidhu went into action mode on Saturday from Patiala -- the Chief Minister's home turf -- rounding up MLAs. Team Amarinder, led by Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa, went into a huddle with Punjab MPs in Delhi on Sunday morning.
The plan was to tell Mrs Gandhi that over the last five years, Mr Sidhu has behaved in the most erratic fashion and has no grip on the organisation, sources said. Leaders also said that old-timers in the party were upset with the choice of Mr Sidhu -- whom they see as a "BJP reject" -- calling the shots.
In Patiala, meanwhile, Mr Sidhu has been meeting party MLAs through the day. On Saturday he met 30 MLAs, more were on Sunday's list.