Punjab political crisis: G23 targets Congress leadership as Sidhu stays firm

NEW DELHI: Navjot Singh Sidhu’s surprise resignation as Punjab Congress chief on Tuesday raised questions over the grand old party’s leadership and threw the crisis-ridden state unit into a deeper turmoil.
While Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi reached out to Sidhu earlier today in an effort to placate him, the former state Congress chief made it clear in a video message that he will stand by his decision.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, took the opportunity to hit out the Congress over the political drama which is unfolding just months ahead of the crucial assembly elections in the state. Even the G23 leaders within the party raised concern over the recent political fracas.
Punjab live updates
Here are the top developments of the day …
Ready to make any sacrifice: Sidhu
Sidhu had put in his papers on Tuesday shortly after the allocation of portfolios to the members of the new state Cabinet led by Charanjit Singh Channi.
While the reason for his resignation wasn’t clear yesterday, Sidhu on Wednesday took to Twitter and raised questions over the appointments of the director general of police, advocate general and “tainted” leaders.
Posting a video message on Twitter, Sidhu said his objective had always been to improve the lives of people and “to make a difference”.
“My fight has been on issues and a pro-Punjab agenda, for which I have stood for a long time,” he said.
Apparently referring to senior IPS officer Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota, who has been given the additional charge of the director general of Punjab Police, Sidhu said, “Today, I see there is a compromise on those issues.”
In an apparent reference to the 2015 desecration of Guru Granth Sahib incidents in Faridkot, he said his first priority was to fight for justice the people have been eagerly waiting for.
“I see those who had given clean chits to the Badals six years ago … have been given the responsibility of delivering justice,” he added.
Sahota was the head of a special investigation team formed in 2015 by the then Akali government to probe the sacrilege incidents.
Sidhu also apparently questioned the appointment of A P S Deol as the state’s new advocate general.
“My soul jitters when I see those who secured blanket bails, they are advocate general. What is the agenda here,” he asked.
Deol is a senior advocate of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and has been a counsel for former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini. He had been representing the ex-top cop in various cases against him.
“Those who used to talk about issues, where are those issues now? Where are the means? Will we reach our destination with these means,” Sidhu apparently asked the current state leadership.
“To fight for justice of ‘Guru Sahib’ and to improve the lives of people of Punjab and for the means, I will make any sacrifice but will always stand by principles,” he said.
A system which included “tainted” leaders and officials is being brought back after being dismantled, he said, adding, “I oppose it.”
He was obliquely referring to the induction of Rana Gurjit Singh as a minister in the Charanjit Singh Channi-led Cabinet.
Singh was included in the ministry despite protests by some party leaders over his past. He had to resign from the Amarinder Singh ministry over allegations of impropriety in the auction of sand-mining contracts.
Channi speaks to Sidhu
A day after Sidhu’s resignation, CM Channi reached out to the cricketer-turned-politician and offered to resolve issues through talks.
Channi also said the party is supreme and the government follows the party’s ideology.
“I have spoken to Sidhu sahab over the telephone today. Party is supreme and the government accepts the party’s ideology and follows that. (I told him that) you should come, sit and talk,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting.
“The (state) president is the head of the party. The head has to sit among the family,” he said, adding that Sidhu had agreed to meet.
Channi, however, defended the appointments, saying he had acted on the basis of feedback from the party members.
“I have no objection or any ego in anything,” he said, indicating that he was ready to review the decisions.
‘G23’ leaders speak out
Meanwhile, several G23 leaders – who are part of the group that has been demanding organisational reforms – expressed concern over the crisis unfolding in the poll-bound state.
Sources said that senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad wrote a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and asked her to convene an urgent meeting of Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Reacting to the development, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said: “I believe that one of my senior colleagues has perhaps written or is about to write to Congress president to immediately convene a CWC so that a dialogue can take place as to why we are in this state.”
He also spoke about the informal G23 group, saying that it’s not “Jee Huzoor 23”, in an apparant dig at some party leaders.
“We are not ‘Jee Huzoor 23’. It is very clear. We will keep talking. We will continue to reiterate our demands,” Sibal was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
Sibal added that G23 leaders are are not the ones who will leave the party and go anywhere else.
“It is ironic. Those who were close to them (party leadership) have left & those whom they don’t consider to be close to them are still standing with them,” he said.
Another G23 leader, Manish Tewari, also expressed concern over the Punjab crisis.
He said that he is “extremely distressed” after Sidhu’s resignation and claimed that the only people who are happy with what is going on in the border state is the “deep state of Pakistan”.
Tewari pointed out that a safe pair of hands is required to keep the ship on an even keel in the state when it is going through intense social upheaval because of angst in people against farm laws.
“As a Punjab MP, I am extremely distressed about happenings in Punjab. Peace in Punjab was extremely hard-won. 25,000 people, bulk of them Congressmen, sacrificed themselves to bring peace back to Punjab after fighting extremism and terrorism between 1980-1995,” Tewari told ANI.
Amarinder Singh meets Amit Shah
Amid high drama unfolding in Punjab, former chief minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday met Union home minister Amit Shah in the national capital.
Though his visit to Shah’s residence is said to be “personal”, there is a buzz that the meeting might be a percursor to an alliance.
Notably, Amarinder resigned the chief minister of Punjab earlier this month after weeks of tensions with Sidhu.
He was replaced by Dalit leader Charanjit Channi.
Punjab in charge Harish Rawat closely following developments in state
The Congress on Wednesday said that AICC general secretary in charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat is closely following the political developments in the state and is in the best position to comment on the matter.
Asked about the dramatic developments in Punjab, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said Rawat is closely monitoring the situation and is completely aware of all the happenings which she may not be and therefore, she would not like to comment on it.
Shrinate told reporters that since Rawat is the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of Punjab, he is in the best position to answer queries on developments in the party’s state unit and should be contacted for comments.
However, Rawat could not be reached for a comment.
BJP questions stability of Punjab
Asserting that stability in Punjab is essential for national security, the BJP on Wednesday hit out at the Congress over the political volatility in the border state and called it a “collosal failure” of Rahul Gandhi.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra expressed concern over the situation in Punjab and said the Congress, which is in power there, has become synonymous with “instability”.
With Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu’s resignation plunging the state into a fresh political crisis, Patra said the state has been plagued by a clash of ambitions.
He noted that senior Congress leaders like Manish Tewari have also expressed their concern over the situation in the state as Punjab’s stability is important for national security.
Taking a swipe at the Congress leadership, he said the Gandhi family had gone to Shimla on vacation after replacing Amarinder Singh as chief minister.
“The entire episode has brought to fore the colossal failure of Rahul Gandhi,” the BJP spokesperson said and accused the Congress of targeting journalists to divert the attention from the Punjab crisis.
Delhi chief minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal said the Punjab government has been reduced to a “tamasha” and urged new CM Channi to immediately remove “tainted” ministers from his cabinet.
(With inputs from PTI)

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