A victorious Sidhu at the Golden Temple.

A victorious Sidhu at the Golden Temple.

Captain benched, Sidhu pads up for Punjab innings; options open for Amarinder

I resigned as I felt humiliated, but Sidhu is a disaster, anti-national: Amarinder

Agency Report | Chandigarh | 18 September, 2021 | 11:00 PM

Amarinder Singh has resigned as Punjab Chief Minister, months before polls, saying he had been "humiliated thrice" and that the Congress is free to "appoint whoever they trust". He also said he would "exercise his options when the time comes". A sudden meeting of Punjab MLAs announced by the Congress late Friday night, with big hints that a majority of them had asked for change, drove a crisis of months to breaking point. Congress's Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat tweeted about the meeting and Amarinder Singh's rival Navjot Singh Sidhu shared the post. Stung by the move, Amarinder Singh, 79, told reporters he had decided to resign in the morning. He said he had spoken with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and had told her he had put up with enough humiliation. Singh said: "There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes... at the moment I am still in Congress." He added that he would "speak to my people who have supported me for the past 52 years".

Dubbing Navjot Sidhu as anti-national, dangerous, unstable, incompetent and a security threat to the state and the country, Amarinder Singh on Saturday said he will fight any move to make the Punjab Congress president the chief minister “tooth and nail.”

Making it clear that he had no intention of quitting politics, Amarinder Singh said there was no question of supporting Sidhu, who was clearly mixed up with Pakistan and a danger, as well as a disaster, for Punjab and the country.

“I cannot allow such a man to destroy us, I will continue to fight the issues that are bad for his state and its people,” said the outgoing Chief Minister, lashing out at Sidhu for his close alliance with the leadership across the border.

“We have all seen Sidhu hugging Imran Khan and General Bajwa, and singing praises for the Pakistan Prime Minister at the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor while our soldiers were being killed at the borders every day,” he said, pointing out that the ex-cricketer had attended Imran’s swearing-in even after he (Amarinder Singh) categorically told him not to.

“The government of Punjab means the security of India, and if Sidhu is made the face of the Congress for chief ministership, I will fight him at every step,” he added.

In a series of media interviews, Amarinder Singh, who has been asked by the Governor to continue in office as Chief Minister till alternative arrangements are made, said Sidhu could never be a good leader for Punjab.

“How can a man who could not handle a ministry handle the state?” he asked, adding that there was no question of backing an incompetent man whom he had removed from his cabinet.

As Local Government minister, Sidhu failed to clear files for seven months, he said.

Amarinder Singh ruled out leaving politics and said that as an army man, he has a lot of will and will remain active in the upcoming Assembly elections in Punjab. “I am not hanging my boots,” he declared, reiterating that he will decide on his future course of action after talking to people close to him, including MLAs of the Congress, which Sidhu had divided just months ahead of the polls.

He revealed that he had himself asked MLAs who were supporting him to attend the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meet, and the presence of the large number of legislators at the meeting did not mean they were supporting Sidhu.

Rejecting claims by the Congress leadership that he had lost the confidence of the MLAs, Amarinder Singh termed it a lame excuse. “Just a week ago, I had sent to Sonia Gandhi a list of 63 MLAs who were supporting me,” he said, adding that MLAs usually respond to what they think Delhi wants, which was the case at the CLP meeting too.

“In any case, it is not possible to make all MLAs happy,” he added.

Pointing to the sweeping wins by the Congress under his leadership since 2017, Amarinder Singh said he failed to understand the decision by the party to replace him.

“The people of Punjab were clearly happy with my government,” he said, adding till three-four months ago, the tide was completely in favour of the Congress in Punjab but “they have cut their nose to spite their face, and ended up from a winning to a losing position”.

Expressing pain and shock at the way he was humiliated into quitting, Amarinder Singh said, “Even today, I was not informed about the CLP meeting even though I was the leader. The way everyone was called in the night and informed about the meeting, it was clear they wanted to remove me as CM.”

He said he felt sad and humiliated that his contribution to the state was not recognised, and he had been misread despite having done the best for it, including on the sacrilege and drugs issues.

At the same time, he said that the “future politics option is always there and I will use that option”.

Making it clear that he would explore and exercise his future options when the time comes, Amarinder Singh said he would decide his future course of action in consultation with his supporters, who have stood by him for over five decades.

“Apparently, they (Congress high command) do not have confidence in me and did not think I could handle my job. But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair.”

“Let them appoint who they trust,” he said, taking a dig at the party leadership.

“I had decided in the morning. I had spoken to the Congress President in the morning. I had told her that I am resigning,” he added.

Amarinder Singh, who was at the helm in his second stint, also told a news channel that he would never accept Sidhu as the Chief Minister.

“He is a total disaster. He could not run a single ministry. How will he run the whole state? I know the man. He has no capability,” Amarinder Singh said.

An official statement from the Raj Bhavan said that Governor Banwarilal Purohit has accepted Amarinder Singh’s resignation along with those of his council of ministers.

The Governor asked Amarinder Singh and his council of ministers to continue in office for the transaction of routine business till an alternative arrangement is made.

The resignation of the Chief Minister and his council of ministers came just minutes ahead of a crucial meeting of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) to elect a new leader.

The minute-by-minute changing political tussle in the state began close to midnight on Friday when Punjab Congress in-charge Harish Rawat tweeted about the decision to hold an urgent CLP meeting on Saturday.

About 10 minutes later, Sidhu directed all the MLAs to be present at the CLP meeting.

The announcement by Rawat was seen as an indication from the high command to appoint a new incumbent under whose helm the party will go to the Assembly polls, slated in March 2022.

Responding to the political developments, former state Congress President Sunil Jakhar tweeted: “Kudos to Sh Rahul Gandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot.

“Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis.”

In political circles, Jakhar, who was elected thrice (2002-2017) from Abohar, is seen as the frontrunner for the CM’s post.

He, however, had lost to Sunny Deol from Gurdaspur in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections despite his party winning eight of the 13 seats in the state. He had won the seat in the bypolls in October 2017 after it fell vacant following the death of sitting BJP MP Vinod Khanna.

The decision to call the CLP came in the wake of a fresh letter signed by at least 50 out of the 80 Congress legislators who had expressed their dissatisfaction with Amarinder Singh and demanded his removal from the Chief Minister’s post.

Former Punjab President Sunil Jakhar is frontrunner for the post of Chief Minister, sources said as party wants to project non Sikh face ahead of polls to counter AAP which is gaining ground in the state.

Sources say that party wants a Sikh, Navjot Singh Sidhu as state party chief and non Sikh combination in the polls. Other name doing the rounds is of Pratap Singh Bajwa.

Indicating loud and clear ‘rebellion’ by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, if he was forced to resign by the Congress high command, his Press Secretary on Saturday said the people who ‘surprised’ the betrayal should be ready for a ‘shock’ with vengeance.

“If people ‘surprise’ you with betrayal, you have a right to ‘shock’ them back with due vengeance. Period,” Press Secretary Vimal Sumbly informed in a tweet, without talking about the ongoing tussle between the Chief Minister and the high command.

Meanwhile, AICC’s deputed party general secretary Ajay Maken and Harish Chowdhry reached Chandigarh as central observers for the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meeting slated to be held in the evening. State party in charge Harish Rawat is also here.

Just a few hours ahead of a meeting of the CLP, the high command is said to have conveyed to Amarinder Singh to resign to enable the election of a new incumbent.

However, the Chief Minister ‘threatens’ to quit the party for being humiliated. (IANS)