Captain Showed Big Heart, Navjot Sidhu Reciprocated: Congress Leader

The feud between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu dates back to the 2017 election, when the former cricketer hoped to be made Deputy Chief Minister but was reportedly denied by Mr Singh

Highlights

  • Want Mr Sidhu's aggression, Need Mr Singh's experience, said Harish Rawat
  • He said the leadership knows they need to work together ahead of polls
  • He didn't comment on if Navjot Sidhu will be Chief Ministerial candidate
New Delhi:

There are still some issues to be resolved before the Amarinder Singh-Navjot Sidhu feud can be finally put to bed, but there is a "desire for peace" ahead of next year's election, which is a priority for the Congress, the party's Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat told NDTV on Monday.

Mr Rawat - who led the three-member team deployed by Sonia Gandhi to contain and resolve squabbles between the Chief Minister and his fierce critic - praised Mr Singh for his "big heart" in hosting Mr Sidhu to tea ahead of his presentation as Punjab Congress chief.

"I am not saying all issues have been resolved... we are a dynamic party. But the senior Punjab leadership, which includes Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu, knows it needs to work together ahead of the 2022 polls. History is given us a great responsibility to win this election," he said.

The truce in Punjab Congress - the result of weeks of hushed (and not-so hushed) talks with Mr Singh, Mr Sidhu, and MLAs and MPs loyal to each - is welcome news for the Congress, particularly since it threatened the loss of one of the very few states it rules own its own now.

Part of the proof of that truce, the Congress has said, is a photo of the two rivals smiling amicably at each other, hands folded in a namaste, from across a table set for tea. Some, however, suggest this nothing more than a photo-op - to temporarily quieten the rumour mill.

In an effort to not threaten that balance, Mr Rawat praised both leaders; he thanked the Chief Minister for his "magnanimity" and flagged Mr Sidhu's willingness to seek his rival's blessings.

"We were not sure if he would host the tea party. Captain (Mr Singh) showed his magnanimity, took the higher moral ground, and Sidhu reciprocated. I hope this goes on in the future too."

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Harish Rawat led the three-man Congress team tasked with resolving Punjab infighting

"Our aim is the 2022 Punjab poll. We want Sidhu's aggression because we want someone who bats at the front foot. We also need Amarinder Singh's experience," he said

However, when asked if Mr Sidhu was a potential chief ministerial candidate for the 2022 election, Mr Rawat was non-committal, replying: "The high command decides... this is acceptable to us."

"There may be others too who could be contenders... but there is a system in place to decide on the chief minister after the polls. The high command will decide this, and this is acceptable to us all... to Sidhu and even to Harish Rawat," he said.

Mr Sidhu and Mr Singh have faced off for months till the former was appointed Punjab Congress President last week, much to the latter's consternation; Mr Singh only gave in at the last minute, after one final demand at a public apology - which is still pending - for his rival's many swipes.

Hours earlier the two met for tea at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh, where that photo was taken.

The 'tea party' today appeared to mark the end of hostilities between the two. After tea they shared a stage at Mr Sidhu's formal presentation, and each had suitably positive things to say.

The tension, though, was still there and both delivered blink-and-you'll-miss-it warning shots; Mr Sidhu referred to the state's "many problems" and Mr Singh brought up Pakistan and China.

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

Mr 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 Amarinder Singh in recent months, becoming a hard-to-ignore problem in the run-up to the Punjab election.

This prompted Sonia Gandhi to constitute that three-man committee that spoke to Mr Singh and Mr Sidhu, as well MLAs and MPs from both camps before delivering a "compromise formula".