Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has left Delhi after two days, without any meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi, sources said. The party, however, has made it clear that Mr Singh will stay. Efforts will continue to resolve party leaders’ grievances against Mr Singh. The three-member panel formed by Mrs Gandhi to resolve the infighting in the Punjab Congress unit, which has set off a crisis ahead of next year’s assembly elections, will continue meeting leaders.
A section of leaders have objected to Mr Singh’s leadership, citing the government’s inaction in sacrilege cases, under-representation of Dalits in the government and the inaccessibility of the Chief Minister due to his coterie.
But the party has emphasised the need for unity, pointing to the state elections due next year.
A replacement for the party’s state unit chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar — known for his differences with the Chief Minister — is on the cards. Sources indicated Navjot Sidhu or a Dalit face can replace Mr Jakhar.
The Congress leadership has also asked Amarinder Singh to take action on a host of issues including crackdown on the sand and transport mafia, reworking the power purchase agreements and reducing power bills, the sacrilege issue, ensuring the Scheduled Castes are properly represented and their grievances looked into.
The leadership believes once this is addressed, it will help Navjot Sidhu get a face saver and say he has spoken for the people and is ready to work for the Congress.
Asked whether the Gandhis’ gesture was a snub for the Chief Minister when the need of the hour was a show of support, party sources said Mr Singh has met the panel, had lunch and also met senior party leader Ambika Soni.
Asked whether the panel will call Congress MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been at loggerheads with Mr Singh, for a meeting, Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs, Harish Rawat said, “My answer is yes”.
The panel members said theirs was a fact finding report and that they have been asking Mr Sidhu for a meeting, but he has said that would only meet the Gandhis. Sources said the panel has nearly completed its exercise.
Mr Sidhu had launched a fresh attack on the Chief Minister after the state government suffered a legal setback in a 2015 case involving the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, an emotive issue in Punjab. He had also criticised the Chief Minister over the state cabinet’s decision to give two government jobs to the sons of Congress MLAs.