Sidhu’s appointment attests to the niche that the cricketer-turned-politician has carved for himself since he left BJP and joined Congress in 2017 assembly elections and the way he positioned himself as the anti-Amarinder Singh voice in the Punjab Congress apparatus as well as an anti-Badal campaigner. It also indicated a decisive say of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in party affairs.
Many believe that the way he held the AAP threat over the party, with speculation that he could defect if he was ignored, also played a role in his elevation. Election strategist Prashant Kishor’s input to the Gandhis during their recent meeting is also being speculated about. Incidentally, Kishor is an advisor to CM Singh.
The announcement came on the day the entire Punjab Congress representation in Parliament in terms of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs held a meeting and conveyed to the party brass that Sidhu was not acceptable to them. The decision to go for a late evening announcement instead of Monday as planned is being seen as a reaction to the flurry of meetings, and a deliberate snub by the Gandhi siblings to the CM and the party MPs for raising the red flag to their plans.
All eyes are now on if, and how, the party manages a convincing show of unity between CM Singh and Sidhu who has virtually emptied his Twitter and TV guns on the satrap over last two months. Some believe it could trigger a further phase of instability and possibly more dissension.
For Congress which has been a dominant force in Punjab, overruling Amarinder Singh‘s choice in state politics suggests that the party under the Gandhi siblings is eager to consider new options. Earlier attempts by the party to create an alternative state leadership were quashed by the dominant leader “captain” who has a special constituency in both the party and the state.
Now, questions are bound to arise if CM Singh would be the automatic choice if Congress returns to power in March 2022 or if Sidhu could be the favoured one with the Gandhis.
Besides putting Sidhu at the PCC helm, Congress also appointed four “working presidents” – a Sikh OBC, a Dalit Sikh and a Hindu besides a Jat, all Rahul loyalists – for social balancing which has been dubbed as indispensable in a state with diversity. With Sidhu as Congress chief, the ruling party now has two Jat Sikhs at the top, in contrast to how Congress has shared posts of CM and PCC chief between the dominant Sikh caste and the Hindu community as also Dalits. CM Amarinder Singh made this argument while demanding that a Hindu leader be appointed as the party president in Punjab, his choice being Manish Tewari.
Sidhu’s appointment sets to rest the speculations that have roiled the Punjab Congress for over two months, resulting in the AICC constituting a three-member panel headed by Mallikarjun Kharge to end the dissidence. CM Amarinder Singh made a last-ditch effort against Sidhu by writing a letter two days ago to the Congress chief against the move. However, a visit by AICC general secretary Harish Rawat to Chandigarh and discussions with Singh ended with the latter declaring that he would accept the decision of the leadership.
While Sidhu is seen as a new face and often portrayed as erratic and a solo player, the leadership believes he has the public sentiment behind him given the way he has positioned himself as focused on issues and against the Akali Dal led by the Badal family. Training his guns at the CM, Sidhu has in recent weeks repeatedly alleged that Amarinder was soft on the Badals for political convenience, citing alleged soft peddling of the sacrilege case and drugs trade prosecutions.
The challenge for Congress will be if there is a negative reaction among the Hindu community given that the party itself has made it an issue. Besides, Sidhu’s detractors have repeatedly underlined that his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his controversial hug to the Pakistan Army chief remain a red rag with many people in the state, specially Hindus.
Watch Sidhu beats back Captain’s ploy, can he now unite Punjab Congress?
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