Punjab CLP meet deferred: Why is Congress struggling to build consensus on name of CM?


The names of former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, current state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa are doing the rounds.

File Image of Amarinder Singh.

A meeting of the Punjab Congress Legislative Party, which was slated for 11 am on Sunday, has been deferred, with party sources saying that a consensus is yet to be made on the name of the new CLP leader.

The names of former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, current state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa are doing the rounds.

A reluctant front-runner, dissent and disagreement: What’s delaying CM’s appointment

According to a report in NDTV, Congress leader Ambika Soni was apparently asked to take over the job but she denied stating that only a person from the Sikh community should head the state government. Another report in News18 said that Congress president Sonia Gandhi was still trying to convince her.

“I’ve declined the offer (to be the next Punjab CM). Party’s exercise is going on in Chandigarh with the general secretary and observers are taking views of all MLAs. I believe Punjab CM face should be a Sikh,” Soni told ANI. 

Another front-runner Sunil Jakhar was apparently sidelined after several leaders from Punjab objected to the choice of a Hindu as the CM candidate. They are learnt to have stated that if Congress names a Hindu, Sikhs would get upset. No other community apart from Sikhs have helmed the state since its reorganisation in 1966 when Haryana was created.

Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa’s name was also tossed in the mix but the leadership fears his equation with PPCC president  Sidhu is not good. “They will end up fighting. It will go back to square one. If Amarinder was removed because the state Congress chief and the chief minister are pulling in different directions, then installing Bajwa would not solve that problem,” a senior leader told The Indian Express. It said Sidhu too is not in favour of Bajwa.

Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, now considered to be leading the race, also told News18 that he was not greedy for any posts and that the final decision will lie with Congress high command.

Meanwhile, Congress sources have also kept the cards close on naming Sidhu as chief minister. When asked by various media publications, senior leaders have merely indicated that such a possibility cannot be ruled out. But it remains to be seen whether Congress will go that far to antagonise Amarinder and those close to him.

The Congress’ three political observers for Punjab are meeting with every MLA to get their views on the matter, and the three will report back to the party high command for a decision on who would be the next chief minister. Many in the party are unhappy with the way the crisis was handled.

On Saturday, the CLP had met to pass a resolution empowering Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi to pick out the next chief minister. A party source also confirmed this to PTI, stating that all MLAs will abide by whatever the party leadership decides.

AICC general secretary and Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat and party’s central observers Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary are currently in the city.

The background

Congress veteran Captain Amarinder Singh resigned as chief minister of Punjab with less than five months to go for the Assembly polls after a bruising power struggle with state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and had said that he felt “humiliated” over the way the party handled the protracted crisis.

The 79-year-old Amarinder Singh, one of the Congress’ powerful regional satraps, had put in his papers after speaking to the party president and shortly before a crucial meeting of the CLP here on Saturday evening.

He had later launched a no-holds-barred attack against Sidhu, describing his bete noire, a cricketer-turned-politician, as a “total disaster”.

Congress sources had said the party, also battling dissensions in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where its governments are in power, is trying to balance equations in the poll-bound state and is likely to appoint a Hindu face like Jakhar to the top post. Jakhar, who is not an MLA, is believed to be close to the top Congress leadership.

Jakhar in a tweet said, “Kudos to [email protected] for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis.”

Sidhu’s principal strategic adviser and former IPS officer Mohd Mustafa in a tweet said it is the time to have a “Congress CM” after a “long agonising wait” of four and a half years.

“Today is the time for course correction,” said Mustafa.

Mustafa’s wife Razia Sultana was a cabinet minister in the Amarinder Singh-led government.

Earlier, reports had surfaced that a section of Congress MLAs had written to the party leadership to convene a CLP meeting to discuss the poll strategy and progress on the 18-point agenda, which includes action on the 2015 desecration cases and arrest of the big fish in drug rackets.

Last month, four ministers and around two dozen party legislators had raised a banner of revolt against Amarinder Singh and had said they had no faith in his ability to honour unfulfilled promises. Two of the four ministers are now among front-runners for the chief minister’s post. The crisis in the party’s state unit has been brewing for the past many months.

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