A week after Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh accused cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu of shirking his responsibilities and making controversial remarks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the cricketer-turned politician today struck back by claiming that he was being unfairly "singled out" for the party's poor performance in the state. He also claimed that "some people" wanted him out of the party.
On May 23, Amarinder Singh had said that the Congress failed to do well in urban areas of the state because Navjot Sidhu handled his urban development portfolio poorly. He also surmised that the state minister's remarks on the Guru Granth Sahib desecration case "could have affected the party's performance in Bathinda", and said he would take up the issue with the party high command once the dust from the elections has settled down.
Navjot Sidhu, in his response, claimed that no other minister in Amarinder Singh's cabinet worked with as much transparency as he did. "The urban development department was a rudderless ship when I joined it. But in the last two years, I have succeeded in generating Rs 6,000 crore and completing all pending projects on a war footing. The department didn't even have five paisa. There was no money to give salaries to employees, no vision, no accountability and no question raised over its functioning," news agency PTI quoted him as saying.
The Punjab minister said he will not object if the government decides to change his portfolio. "If I have made any mistake, I am ready to accept it 100 times," he added.
The rift between the two had widened after the former cricketer's wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, claimed that Amarinder Singh had blocked her attempts to get a Congress ticket from Punjab's Amritsar and Chandigarh. Navjot Sidhu stood by her, saying that his wife could "never lie".
Today, the state cabinet minister alleged that he was being unfairly targeted within his own party. "There are the same eight or nine people who in the past also wanted me to be thrown out of the party, but I have never spoken a word against them," he said.
The Punjab Chief Minister had also been critical of Navjot Sidhu over his closeness with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and a controversial hug with Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa during a visit to Islamabad last year. "How could something like that be tolerated, especially by army personnel who are being killed by Pakistan-backed terrorists?" Amarinder Singh asked, hinting that it could have been one of the many reasons for the Congress' loss in Bathinda.
Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had defeated the Congress' Amarinder 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" for launching a "false campaign" against her.
(With inputs from PTI)