Rifts Between the Channi and Sidhu Factions Have Spilled Out in The Open

Beyond the leadership tussle between Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi that dominated the headlines in the run up to the Assembly elections, the Congress in Punjab is battling crises on multiple fronts amid the poll season.

“The Congress party seems to be imploding in Punjab. It seems that Congress High Command mistimed the ouster of former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh,” Chandigarh-based Prof Ashutosh Kumar, chairperson of the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, told in an interview on Tuesday, Feb15.

In An Avalanche of Developments Before Punjab Assembly Election 2022: 

  • Sunil Jakhar, who heads the party’s Campaign Committee, announced that he was quitting electoral politics as he was unable to work with a few colleagues; 
  • Patiala Lok Sabha member Preneet Kaur has been campaigning for her husband, Capt (Retd) Amarinder, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party; and 
  • local leaders have derided the AICC’s Punjab in-charge Harish Chaudhary’s decision of following “one ticket from one family” norm while selecting candidates.

Lok Sabha member Jasbir Gill tweeted on February 12, “Correctly said @sunilkjakhar, immature, incapable, corrupt people like THUG OF BARMER are responsible for present mess in Pb Congress.”

Mr. Gill is said to be upset over his son being denied a ticket.

In an effort to streamline campaigning, last week Congress president Sonia Gandhi appointed Lok Sabha member from Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu, as the chairman of the election management committee. But many believe the damage is already done.

“This is a totally self-created mess,” a senior leader said, blaming former party chief Rahul Gandhi for the manner in which Capt. Amarinder was unseated last September.

Echoing such a view, Prof. Kumar said, “Maybe the Congress wouldn’t have fared well even with Capt. Amarinder at the helm but it wouldn’t have been reduced to such a sorry state”.

Referring to the constant tussle between Mr. Channi and Mr. Sidhu, he said, “The Congress is behaving both as the ruling party as well as the party in Opposition.”

On February 13, the strains between the Sidhu and Channi camps were clearly visible as Mr. Sidhu refused to speak at a public rally in Dhuri (from where Aam Admi Party’s Bhagwant Mann is contesting) despite the rally being addressed by general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Insiders say though the Congress has highlighted Mr. Channi’s Scheduled Caste (SC) background to reach out to almost 33% votes of the community. Notwithstanding, these efforts have been undone by the bitter public battles.

“To begin with, Mr. Channi was an accidental Chief Minister because Mr. Sidhu was not acceptable to the MLAs. So, this was the starting point. Then, the MPs got upset as their opposition to Mr. Sidhu was ignored and eventually, they didn’t have a say in ticket distribution,” said the source cited above.

Rubbing salt into Channi’s wounds, days after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi declared Charanjit Singh Channi as its chief ministerial face for Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s daughter Rabia Sidhu surprised everybody by saying that there may have been certain compulsions of the high command behind the choice. Rabia Sidhu referred to Channi as a ‘corrupt man’ whereas, praised her father as an ‘honest man’

“High command may have had certain compulsions. It is very difficult to stop a man who has made honest intentions. While a corrupt man has to be stopped at some point. He (Sidhu) doesn’t have any bad reputation. Every politician has charges against them,” she told media persons.

                           

Family of Navjot Singh Sidhu

Political Pandits believe that the disruptive move of appointing Channi as chief minister, a rare decision step taken by the Congress’s central leadership, has failed to take the party out of the woods in Punjab. The show of unity presented by Channi and state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, at an online rally addressed by former party chief Rahul Gandhi, failed to hide the tensions and rivalry between the two leaders. It was quite telling how Rahul was at pains to emphasise that the party would have a chief ministerial face, a U-turn from the earlier declaration that the elections would be contested under a collective leadership. That the Channi-Sidhu rivalry was weighing down the party and handing the advantage to a resurgent AAP was the reason behind the decision to announce a CM face.

Highlighting the continued rift between Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and the Congress’s state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said that both of the can be seen speaking against each other weeks before the Assembly elections in the state. Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday Singh said, “Chief Minister Channi is making new announcements every day. Now Sidhu is speaking against him. Both of them can be seen speaking against each other.”

The former chief minister further hit out at Sidhu saying that he does not have any stand of his own and he changes his stand every now and then. “It is worthless to talk about the man who changes his stand every now and then. Sidhu does not have any stand of his own,” he said.

Taking a jibe at CM Channi for his new announcements weeks before the assembly polls he insisted that these are unachievable because Congress does not have any plan to fulfil its promises.