Following a period of infighting inside the Punjab Congress, the party’s high command urged Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to resign on Saturday. This comes after Amarinder’s nemesis, Navjot Singh Sidhu, was named state Congress unit chief. The Congress won power in Punjab on the promise of eradicating the drug problem and bringing the culprits in the sacrilege case to justice. Despite the passage of four years, the sacrilege cases continue to linger. The Congress won power in Punjab on the promise of eradicating the drug problem and bringing the culprits in the sacrilege case to justice.
Despite the passage of four years, the sacrilege cases continue to linger. The Punjab and Haryana High Court gave former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal a clean chit in the Kotkapura police fire on civilians protesting against the sacrilege at Bargari, where torn pages (angs) of the holy Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib were discovered on October 14, 2015. PPCC chairman Navjot Sidhu, who had been hiding since resigning from the Cabinet in 2019 after being stripped of his position, blasted Amarinder for mishandling the probe, which the High Court dismissed.
The Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, which Amarinder had established in 2017 to investigate sacrilege cases, had already clearly accused the Badals of hiding the Dera Sacha Sauda, but no action was taken. One of the causes for Amarinder’s downfall was the belief that he was light on the Badals.
During a rally in Talwando Sabo in the run-up to the 2017 elections, Capt Amarinder swore an oath on a gutka (holy book) to eradicate the drug epidemic from the state within a month of gaining office. Although many cases have been filed against drug dealers, the public view is that the big fish are still free.
One of the major complaints of Congress MLAs was that meeting the Chief Minister, who was surrounded by a posse, was impossible. It’s an allegation he’s faced before, during his former term. But things became worse this time when he stopped travelling to the Punjab civic office in Chandigarh and moved his family out of the city to a farmhouse on the outskirts. People used to have Sangat darshan (public audience) with chief ministers, whether Akali Parkash Singh Badal or Congress’s Beant Singh, were irritated by his inaccessibility.
‘The government has outsourced to bureaucracy.’
Legislators from throughout the state protested to Congress that bureaucrats managed the administration. Amarinder chose Suresh Kumar, a 1983-batch IAS official, as his chief principal secretary, a position comparable to that of a Cabinet secretary in the central government, shortly after taking office in March 2017. Kumar resigned when the High Court annulled the appointment, but the CM refused to accept his resignation, and the government is appealing the High Court decision. Many perceived Kumar as a power centre and resented his presence in the secretariat without the chief minister.
The prevailing gripe in the districts was that the Badals had maintained their clout in the officialdom. MLAs in Congress claimed that the administration did not address their issues.
The Congress party commissioned external studies in Punjab, which revealed that the chief minister’s popularity had dwindled, casting doubt on his capacity to lead the party to victory in the 2022 assembly elections.
The game of numbers
The Majha brigade of three ministers – Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbinder Sarkaria, and Sukhjinder Randhawa — managed to mobilize most MPs against the CM, led by PPCC chief Navjot Sidhu.
They wrote letters to the high command on multiple occasions and even requested an audience with Sonia Gandhi. Even though Sidhu was appointed as the PPCC leader by the high authority in July after the three-member Kharge panel met with all MPs in June, the two factions could not work together. On Wednesday, the final straw was a letter to Sonia, signed by over 40 MPs and four ministers, requesting a CLP meeting.