With the AICC naming Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu as president of the state Election Committee, he essentially now holds the power of shortlisting candidates for the coming Assembly elections, notwithstanding the checks and balances in the form of screening committees as well as the central election committee.
Congress leaders admit the decision to appoint Sidhu was surprising as the party traditionally picks the chief minister of a state as the chairman of its election panel. Only if it doesn’t have a government there, is the PCC chief chosen.
Given Sidhu’s one-upmanship with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi (who ranks second in the election panel list), the jostling within the Congress is set to get worse.
Sidhu has already indicated this by jumping the gun and making his preference clear for several candidates. These include sitting MLA Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa from Qadian; the next day Fateh’s brother and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa staked claim on the ticket. Next, Sidhu backed Harvinder Singh Laddi from Bathinda (Rural); Laddi is a critic of Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who incidentally is a close aide of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi.
A Congress leader argues that fears that Sidhu would overshadow Channi are unfounded. “There are 53 members in the election panel. How does it make Sidhu all-powerful?”
However, ticket aspirants, who have been unsure of which way the wind is blowing in the Congress since Amarinder Singh’s departure, are likely to go with the flow. As one of them says, “We obviously have to take the blessings of Sidhu. Otherwise, how will it work?”
In a swipe at the Congress’s latest decision, Amarinder said Monday: “Despite having tremendous potential, Channi is being made subservient to the whims of Navjot Sidhu… It is unprecedented that a CM was made subservient to the PCC president.”
Despite the Congress yielding to his revolt and removing bete noire Amarinder as CM, Sidhu remains seemingly unplacated. He keeps attacking the Channi government, and in the latest episode, said his loyalty was towards Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi.