“I am a fauji (soldier) and I never leave the battlefield.” With these words, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh made it clear to his supporters huddled at his residence that he was not going to ‘give up the fight’.
With speculation rife that Sidhu is being projected to take over as the party’s state chief, the former cricketer spent the entire first half of Saturday cosying up to senior leaders from the state while AICC general secretary and Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat, barely a few kilometres away, attempted to placate a fuming Captain who had on Friday warned of a split in the party if Sidhu was promoted.
Meanwhile, the brief given to Sidhu was very clear: that he would have to take everyone along and this could also mean that he would need to reach out to the Amarinder Singh.
Congress sources said that the moment the CM heard that Sidhu would meet him, he told Rawat, who was visiting Chandigarh, that he was ready to make a statement that Sonia Gandhi’s decision of the prized post would be accepted.
However, he added that he would not meet Sidhu till the former cricketer and his bête noire apologised for his derogatory tweets and interviews, sources said.
He added, “the series of leaks and public statements which attacked him had done irreparable damage to the Congress party in Punjab and it was most unfortunate; the way Delhi was handling the state,” sources said.
Just a few days back, the Punjab CM had issued a statement that there was no question of him retiring. In fact, his hard stand has also forced the Congress party to clarify that the upcoming elections will be fought under his leadership.
The Congress has made it very clear that there was no question of Captain Amarinder Singh being replaced or asked to step down. Even as other political parties gear up for the 2022 battle, the Congress is stuck in a battle of its own; that the Captain cannot get along with Navjot Singh Sidhu, amid the former cricketer’s very clear ambition to eventually replace Singh.
While Sidhu flaunts his proximity and bonhomie with the Gandhi siblings, Punjab chief minister flexes his muscles by pointing out that it was he who had bought his party to victory in the state and also ensured wins in all by-polls.
The Captain leaves no opportunity to remind the top leadership that he’s the only one who has been taking on Akalis in the past, and ensuring that the Aam Aadmi Party was wiped clean in the state.
Singh is one of the handful of Congress veterans who is aware that this could be one of his last elections and therefore he does not want to be seen as a coward, but a leader who stood up to the top Congress leadership.
While it is increasingly difficult for a large number of Congress leaders to speak their minds in front of the Gandhi siblings (Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi); it has always been easy for veterans to work with Sonia Gandhi. With time, it is becoming clear that Rahul and Priyanka are taking over, while Sonia plays the role as a mentor. In the future, most of these veterans like Amarinder Singh know that it will not be easy to conduct business with the younger Gandhis.
Unlike many of his senior colleagues, Captain Amarinder Singh has never tried to project his son or wife into politics. His political strategy has largely been related to himself referring to enjoy a nice moment of private life, while being fond of good living and food. And he certainly does not want the changing equations within the Congress party to give him a bad appetite.
This is the reason why despite having said earlier that this would be his last elections, he is not backing down from the party in-fighting concerning Sidhu.
In a private moment, he told some of his confidantes “no soldier likes to be laid off or told that he is unfit for a fight”.
It’s clear that even though the reins of power may change, amid the possibility that if the Congress comes to power in the upcoming elections, Amarinder Singh may not lead its ship, he does not want to retreat.
In private moments and his letter and phone calls to Sonia Gandhi, Amarinder Singh has made it clear that he has been humiliated and treated badly, and that it would be difficult for him to forgive Sidhu.
In fact, the Captain has also conveyed it to top leadership that the silence of the Gandhis even as Sidhu attacked him consistently in public, would never have been accepted by late Rajiv Gandhi, one of his closest friends.
The Congress may have tried to buy peace by talking about a good coordination between the Captain and Sidhu while announcing the continued leadership of Singh, but it is very clear that this might be the CM’s toughest battle yet, which he continues to fight.
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