Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s “I told you so” must be reverberating in Congress corridors after Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned as Punjab Congress chief within three months of his appointment. And after Singh felt compelled to quit, with the Congress Nehru-Gandhi family upturning a fairly stable apple cart just months before the state Assembly elections.

Sidhu’ quit on the day the new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi announced his cabinet. His action is being viewed as an embarrassment for the party high command that had stoked a hornet's nest by bringing him as the party chief despite his adversarial relationship with Singh.

Amarinder Singh has now had his ‘I told you so moment’ after declaring his intention to fight Sidhu tooth and nail. But so has Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) president Sukhbir Singh Badal as he reminded reporters of how he had called Sidhu a ‘misguided missile’ a couple of months ago.

Meanwhile Punjabis had their day of entertainment with the Congress party musical chairs in full public view. The Congress workers were left dejected and angry. The developments in Punjab are bound to create ripples in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan that will be going to the polls in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

The Congress workers contacted by this reporter expressed anger while questioning the wisdom of the party high command over first importing a leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who had even hobnobbed with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before the last assembly elections, then placing him at the helm of affairs despite knowing his ‘whimsical’ political conduct. And in the process dislodge a fairly stable chief minister just ahead of the assembly polls.

Some of the workers in their rage went on to call Sidhu the ‘BJP’s Trojan Horse’ as his resignation came as a shock.

Sidhu’s resignation on Tuesday afternoon was followed by that of cabinet minister Razia Sultana who acted ‘in solidarity’ with the cricketer turned politician. Incidentally, Sultana’s husband and former Director General of Police (DGP) Mohammad Mustafa has been chief strategic adviser to Sidhu ever since he was appointed the Punjab Congress chief.

According to sources, Sidhu was miffed with the way the things were unraveling after the party decided to replace Amarinder Singh. Initially he had blocked the appointment of Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, a Jat Sikh, to the post of the chief minister. Sources said that a strong Randhawa would have blunted his chances of making it to the top post in the near future. Though he had eventually succeeded in getting the party to appoint a Dalit face in Channi, another disappointment awaited him when Randhawa was handed over the prestigious home portfolio.

The sources said that Sidhu was also annoyed with the party high command for ignoring the names suggested by him for cabinet berths as only Pargat Singh made it to the final list. Then he was also not happy at the appointment of Rana Gurjit Singh, a sugar baron from Kapurthala as a minister. Rana Gurjit Singh had to quit from the government earlier in the wake of a sand mining auction scam.

The appointment of APS Deol as the advocate general became another contentious issue as Deol had legally defended former DGP Sumedh Saini in the Behbal Kalan firing case of 2015 where the police had fired on people protesting sacrilege on holy texts. Saini has been a highly polarizing figure in Punjab politics.

In his reaction to the developments on Tuesday, Amarinder Singh termed Sidhu’s resignation as sheer drama. He said the move suggested that his former cabinet colleague was preparing the ground to quit the Congress and join hands with some other party in the run-up to the state assembly polls.

“I had been saying all along that this man is unstable and dangerous, and cannot be entrusted with the task of running Punjab,” Amarinder Singh said. He further added that Sidhu had also proved to be absolutely incompetent during his stint as a minister in his government.

He once again reiterated that Punjab is a sensitive state, sharing over 600 km of border with a hostile Pakistan. He said Sidhu’s close links with his cricketer friend, Imran Khan, and ISI chief Qamar Javed Bajwa are a serious threat to India’s national security.

“I’ve known this boy since his childhood and he has been a loner and can never be a team player,” said Captain Amarinder, recalling how the cricketer had deserted the Indian team during its 1996 tour of England.

Describing Sidhu as a ‘flamboyant’ speaker, Singh said what he speaks in public meetings or rallies may make people laugh but it is all froth, with no substance. “People don’t vote for buffoonery,” he said.

On the issue of Sidhu being upset with the inclusion of certain ministers in Channi’s cabinet, the former Chief Minister said the state Congress chief apparently wanted to run the government by remote control. “What nonsense is this? Cabinet formation is the prerogative of the chief minister, so why should Sidhu interfere in it,” he quipped.

Amarinder Singh has backed former party chief Sunil Jakhar as Sidhu’s replacement saying, “He (Jakhar) is very competent and has performed exceedingly well as the party chief.”

Just before the Congress party was hit by Sidhu’s resignation on Tuesday, there was considerable speculation about Amarinder Singh going to meet top BJP leaders including JP Nadda and Amit Shah during his ongoing Delhi visit. He however scotched the speculation saying he was in Delhi on a personal visit, with the main intent of vacating Kapurthala House for the new chief minister of Punjab.

It is now being speculated in various quarters that Sidhu might now shift to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). But AAP leader Bhagwant Mann has come out after Sidhu’s resignation to state that the Congress leaders were insulting Punjab and the people in their fight for the chair.

Mann said there is no hope for the betterment of Punjab because the Congress has a culture where the Congressmen fight not for the people but for their chair. He remarked that if even today the Congress gives a separate chair of 'Super CM' to Sidhu, the latter would calm down immediately.

Reiterating that Sidhu was a misguided missile, Sukhbir Badal told the media persons, “He first fell on Captain destroying him and has now fallen on his own party, the Congress that made him the president. Every child in Punjab knows that he is full of himself.”

After Amarinder Singh, there is now a question mark on Sidhu’s next move also. As of now people are expecting more theatrics within the Congress fold.

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