This Article is From Sep 30, 2021

Opinion: Who Saw Sidhu Disaster Coming? Everyone - Except Gandhi Siblings

Captain Amarinder Singh, who lost his job as Punjab Chief Minister thanks to rival Navjot Singh Sidhu, is clearly relishing his "I told you so" moment. Currently in Delhi, staying at a five-star hotel, the Captain, aged 79, has refused to confirm or deny whether he's meeting the BJP's top leadership and is set to fill in a consent form to join the Prime Minister's party.

Exactly ten days after he was driven to quit, Sidhu did what the Captain had warned - he resigned as chief of the Congress in Punjab because he wasn't getting his way. The party says the resignation has not yet been accepted but what's incontrovertible is that the Congress has driven a bulldozer over itself in a state that it controls and where elections are just months away.

Sidhu this morning defiantly released a video saying that he cannot be pushed into "Compromise Corner" ( typical Sidhu-ism) and will "fight till his last breath". Against what, exactly? Well, Sidhu says corrupt leaders have been made ministers by the new Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi. And that the choices for several key posts including in the police are unacceptable because they ensured that no action was taken in what is commonly referred to as the 'sacrilege' case. -the desecration and disrespecting of the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab in different instances in 2015 and the police opening fire on a crowd that gathered to protest against this.


A defiant Navjot Singh Sidhu, in a video, said "will fight for truth till the last breath" day after resigning as the Punjab Congress chief.

The Congress High Command (read the Gandhi family), especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the strongest Sidhu votary, spent all night sending feelers to Sidhu only to be spurned. Sidhu has not taken PGV's calls or replied to text messages. He snubbed Pargat Singh, an MLA from his own camp, who came calling with a placatory message from the High Command.

Some perspective on how temperamental Sidhu is - he had earlier threatened to quit as state chief if Sunil Jakhar, a Hindu, or Sukhinder Singh Randhawa who is a Jat Sikh like Sidhu, were made Chief Minister after the Captain was forced to quit. Multiple sources confirmed to me that Sidhu had walked out of the meeting and driven away when Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit, was floated as a compromise candidate. After exercising his veto twice, Sidhu who wanted to become Chief Minister, had no option but to agree and Punjab got its first Dalit Chief Minister. The Congress made a huge virtue out of a necessity and claimed that Rahul Gandhi all along wanted to appoint a Dalit to the top job. Gandhi made it a point to attend Channi's swearing-in and many pictures were posed for. Leaders claimed that Channi's appointment was a masterstroke, an acknowledgment of the 32 percent Dalit vote in Punjab, the largest in India, which effectively neutralised Mayawati's alliance with the Akalis in Punjab. They have promised that a Dalit would be named Deputy chief Minister if they won the election. Channi's selection was also one-up on the Aam Aadmi Party, projected by opinion polls to be in pole position in Punjab but unable to decide on who to name as its presumptive Chief Minister.


Navjot Singh Sidhu with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

When Sidhu accepted Channi, he drew two red lines - that he would function as "Super Chief Minister", with the 58-year-old Channi doing his bidding even as Sidhu exercised his trademark infringement style on how the government is run; and that he be projected as the Chief Minister in the Congress's campaign for the election. The Congress, having decided on Channi, had no retractive landing gear - it could hardly portray Channi, directly or otherwise, as a stopgap Chief Minister as that would be seen as brazen tokenism with Dalits. Mayawati has already accused the Congress of this. Jakhar ,the new addition to the Sidhu-bashers list, went public and said that the historic appointment of a Dalit CM should not amount to tokenism. The Congress made a public statement that Channi and Sidhu would both be the faces of the campaign. Sidhu has only one ambition - to be Punjab Chief Minister - and being depicted as part of a combo was not part of his script. Realisation dawned that by vetoing other claimants and endorsing Channi, who has already proved to be less malleable than presumed, he had shot himself in the foot.

The appointment as a minister of Rana Gurjit Singh who had to leave Captain's cabinet in 2018, after allegations of alleged corruption in sand mining and who is the richest MLA in Punjab with a declared wealth of 170 crores, upset Sidhu. But, all these self-declared claims of Sidhu being a fighter against corruption are the flimsiest of fig leaves for Sidhu's hissy fit over not being named the party's sole choice for Chief Minister if it is re-elected.

Sidhu joined the Congress four years ago after quitting the BJP in a huff; a brief negotiation with AAP did not close in his favour because the party reportedly refused to name him as its candidate for Chief Minister. Sidhu then joined the Congress where he presumed he would be Captain's successor.

The decision of the Congress to side with Sidhu against the Captain was made by the Gandhi siblings who decided it was time to assert their authority against what they see as the Old Guard. Their advisors convinced them that getting rid of Captain, who was no longer popular with many MLAs, would ensure that no anti-incumbency would rub off on the Congress's attempt at re-election.

PGV has been an underwhelming politician who spearheaded the Sidhu-for -Punjab campaign and convinced her family to go along. The Congress High Command has been left with Sidhu-shaped egg on their face. The AAP campaign will gain from the Congress's missteps just ahead of elections. Captain is having the last laugh after having suffered daily and public Sidhu attacks. A plan to find a solution to the farmers' agitation against the three farm laws is reportedly being worked on by the Captain with Amit Shah, which will reportedly ensure that Singh gets public credit as the "saviour of farmers".

As for the Congress as an entity, this is the latest instalment of man-made disasters that leave it further depleted. If Sidhu's commitment to only himself stands exposed, so does the Congress's inability to read the room especially when its First Family is in it.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.