All is still not well in the Punjab Congress. The removal of Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief minister may have resolved some of the problems that the party was facing but new fissures seem to have emerged, especially between the new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and the Punjab Pradesh Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Sources in the party reveal that the meeting between the two leaders saw a great deal of acrimony. Channi and Sidhu had a heated exchange during the meeting and the former even threatened to resign as CM.
The meeting has also become a topic of a great deal of gossip in Punjab's political circles, with people describing it in great detail, some even adding their own embellishments.
Then on Wednesday, 20 October, Congress' troubleshooter for Punjab – general secretary in-charge Harish Rawat – expressed his desire to be relieved of his responsibilities.
So what are the main issues between Channi and Sidhu?
Action Against Badals
Sidhu is said to have confronted Channi regarding the progress made by his government on the 18-point agenda laid down by the Congress high command and the 13 points put forward by Sidhu himself.
In particular, Sidhu had demanded action against the Badals. This includes the allegations of their links with the drug mafia as well as the government acting against their transport companies.
Channi is said to have told Sidhu that his government is doing all it can and that if he still has problems, Sidhu "should become CM for the next two months and try to get it done".
Differences Regarding the Campaign Firm
Sidhu and Channi are also said to have several disagreements regarding the campaign. One such matter is that of the firm that the party is supposed to hire for the campaign.
Sources in the Punjab Congress said that Sidhu's team has been pushing for Ahmedabad-based firm War Room Communication Strategies. This is being opposed by the CM and a major section of the Punjab Congress, citing that the firm had worked with the BJP in the past.
The founder of War Room Communication Strategies, Tushar Panchal, was part of APCO, which worked closely with Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat. In particular, he had worked with the Vibrant Gujarat summit. He also worked with several other investor summits by BJP governments such as Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, as well as the Maritime Summit by the Union Minister of Shipping. He also worked for the Progressive Punjab summit 2013, an initiative of the then Akali-BJP government in the state.
Panchal was appointed as OSD by the MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan but had to quit after opposition from a faction of the BJP.
"It would be wrong to hire a firm that has worked so closely with the BJP," said a Punjab Congress leader.
On being pointed out that Captain Amarinder Singh did hire Prashant Kishor for the 2017 campaign despite having worked with Modi's campaign, the Congress leader said, "Look where Captain Amarinder Singh is now".
The Appointments Row
Sidhu had resigned as Punjab Congress chief, supposedly in protest against two key appointments made by the Channi government — Advocate General APS Deol and officiating DGP Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota. While Deol had earlier represented controversial cop Sumedh Saini, Sahota was accused of going soft on the accused in the sacrilege cases.
However, the party high command refused to accept the resignation and as an olive branch, the Punjab government appointed a highly respected human rights lawyer Rajvinder Singh Bains as the special prosecutor for the sacrilege case.
But Sidhu continued to harbour a grudge against Channi. His objections being overruled by Channi, was nothing less than a betrayal for Sidhu as he had played a key role in getting the latter appointed as CM.
Who Will Be the CM Face?
Sidhu's supporters also accuse Channi of acting on the orders of Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, who happens to be the nephew of former CM Parkash Singh Badal and cousin of Sukhbir Badal.
The fallout between the two was clear even during the Congress' protest against the Lakhimpur Kheri killings. In one of the protests, Sidhu was caught on camera criticising Channi.
For Sidhu, it seems to be clear that the party will project Channi and not him as the chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections. Therefore, he is trying to continue championing certain popular causes – like the sacrilege cases and action against Badals – to retain his appeal.
Channi, on the other hand, is trying to balance several competing interests and sees Sidhu's "grandstanding" as an "effort to undermine his authority".
In either case, the party may soon have to relieve Rawat, who has been busy fire-fighting in the faction-ridder Punjab Congress. As he's the most popular Congress leader in Uttarakhand, the party can't afford to jeopardise its chances in the state, which goes to polls along with Punjab in early 2022.
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