The long-drawn-out tussle between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and State leader Navjot Singh Sidhu has ended decisively in favour of the latter, with Amarinder Singh resigning from office earlier on September 18.
Ruling out leaving politics "after 52 years, nine and a half years as Chief Minister", Amarinder Singh was non-committal about his future course of action. It remains to be seen whether he floats a new political party, or stays with the Congress, a party he has nursed in the State and led to victory in the 2017 Assembly elections. “I am still in Congress. There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes. At the moment, I am still in Congress,” he told mediapersons, adding, “I will consult my supporters before taking a decision.”
Addressing the media at the Governor's residence after putting in his papers, Amarinder Singh left it to the party’s high command to choose his successor but stated, "I feel humiliated." He was referring to the party calling the Punjab legislators twice in the last three months to New Delhi besides meeting him, in response to allegations of inefficiency and corruption levelled against him.
His biggest detractor Sidhu, who questioned his go-slow tactics in the Guru Granth Sahib desecration case, was earlier rewarded by being named as the Pradesh Congress Committee chief, replacing Sunil Jakhar. It failed to bring about a rapprochement between the two, with Sidhu continuing to target Amarinder Singh’s government over various issues, leaving the Chief Minister squirming. With Delhi reluctant to take on Sidhu, it became clear to Amarinder Singh who enjoyed the blessings of the Gandhis in New Delhi. The last nail was probably the decision on the night of September 17 to call a meeting of the party MLAs again. There were enough hints for Amarinder Singh to realise he had lost the support of a majority of his legislators.
The cold war between the two came to the fore when former India cricketer Sidhu went public with allegations about the State being held hostage by the land, sand and drug mafia. He did not shy away from airing his grievances with regard to the non-implementation of election promises by the Amarinder Singh government. Dispelling allegations that he was aspiring for the chief minister’s post, he claimed he would be happy to work at the zilla parishad level even for the progress of the State. His words clearly did not match his actions, as subsequent events have proved.
Incidentally, Sidhu had in a series of tweets criticised Amarinder Singh over his alleged inaction in the issue concerning the desecration of 10 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot district in 2015, when the Shiromani Akali Dal was in power. Sidhu accused his party’s government of not making any much progress in bringing the guilty to book.
Not one to lie low, Amarinder Singh seemed to have bought himself a lifeline when he roped in three opposition legislators into the party in the first week of June: Sukhpal Singh Khaira, a former Congress leader who had joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before forming his own Punjab Ekta Party; and Pirmal Singh Khalsa and Jagdev Singh Kamalu, two rebel MLAs of the AAP. It did not help for long, and even his demand for a public apology from Sidhu was not acceded to.
Amarinder Singh joins his fellow Chief Ministers from Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand to resign with less than a year left for the Vidhan Sabha elections.
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