Senior Congress leader and former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, in a hard-hitting exclusive interview to India TV special correspondent Vijaylaxmi on Wednesday, cautioned the party high command that it may not manage to get even double-digit figure in the assembly elections, if the party projected state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu as its chief ministerial candidate. To rub salt into the wounds, the ex-army captain said that he would ensure Sidhu’s defeat if he contested the assembly election.
In what is being seen as a virtual revolt by the former CM, Capt. Amarinder Singh alleged that Sidhu had “connections” with the Pakistani establishment. “He is Pakistan’s friend, Imran’s friend, he loves Pakistan and this sort of love is dangerous for India”, he said. The former CM showed to our correspondent documents which highlighted how Pakistan is sending arms, explosives and ammunitions to India, airdropping arms by using drones, and smuggling in huge quantities of narcotics in its plot to “destroy Punjab”. Yet, he said, Sidhu is still praising the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and people have seen him hugging the Pakistani army chief Geb. Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Capt. Amarinder Singh vowed that he would not allow Sidhu to win the elections at any cost. In his long interview, the former army captain, nostalgically remembered his connections with Gandhi-Nehru family for the last 67 years (since 1954). He expressed sadness over the manner in which this relationship was snapped off this month by Gandhi family. The former CM described both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi as “not politically mature” and that they were being misled by their advisers.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed how Capt. Amarinder Singh expressed his anger and sadness over the manner in which the Congress leadership practically forced him to resign. “Four years ago, Sidhu was BJP MP and then he crossed over (to Congress). What is his game? He is a drama master. People come to listen to him because he cracks jokes. He only collects crowds to amuse them, but people will not vote. If the party projects him as the face, it will surely lose the polls. Nobody has objections over Channi (the present CM).”
Asked whether it will give advantage to Akali Dal or AAP, the former CM said: “Votes will be divided. There are lots of forces at work. There is AAP, there are three Akali Dals, there are farmers unions, then there is BJP, it is ‘khichdi’ right now. I do not know whether it would be a hung assembly, but under Sidhu’s leadership, it will be a big thing if our party gets double digit seats”.
Amarinder Singh said, “ For the first time in 50 years, I am seeing chief ministers going to Delhi to select ministers. Leaders in Delhi, who have nothing to do with Punjab, are advising the chief minister about forming his cabinet. Channi worked well for the last four and a half years as minister in my Cabinet. He is a bright man. But if he tows Sidhu’s line, the party will lose. You must have one leader, you cannot have two leaders or a collective leadership. Punjab wants one leader, a strong leader.”
The former CM said, “ When I became chief minister twice, in 2002 and in 2017, I was told by Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi to go and take oath. I never asked the party leadership on whom to make ministers. I selected the cabinet myself and the ministers were sworn in. Channi was my minister for four and a half years, he knows the capabilities each of the ministers. Why should he listen to leaders in Delhi like (Harish) Rawat, (Randeep) Surjewala or (Ajay) Maken, about whom to take as minister? The chief minister has to run his cabinet, and his ministers must have confidence in the CM, and vice versa. “
Capt. Amarinder Singh said, “I met the Congress president three weeks ago and told her I cannot work with Sidhu, because we are working in opposite directions. I told her, the party will break, I want to resign. She said, no, you carry on. But the day it happened, if she had telephoned me and asked to quit, I could have sent my resignation. But when they said at night that they have convened the CLP meeting, and wanted the CLP leader to come, that hurt me.”
Asked whether he got less time for this, the former CM quipped: “What should I have done? Should I have taken them (my MLAs) in a bus or plane to Goa? This is not my style. And, if after 52 years, they could not understand my style of working, what is this leadership? They should know my style. I am not somebody who would hide my supporters somewhere. My supporters told me in the morning, they have been asked to attend the CLP meeting. I told them not to go, and come to my residence at 2 pm. Soon, telephones started ringing and my supporters were told not to meet me. What’s all this childishness?”
“.. Surjewala and some other leader came here for the meeting. I am not that type of leader. They could have hidden their legislators in other states, but not here. If the Congress President had asked me to quit earlier, I would have resigned. The moment she told me that day to quit at 10 am, I said I will resign. She said, Amarinder, I am very sorry. … I tendered my resignation at 4 pm. What was the need for doing all this drama?”
Asked who were behind the party leadership’s decision to ask him to quit, the former CM said, “These could be advisers. ..I have close relationship with both of them (Rahul and Priyanka), though I could not meet them for last one and a half years because of Covid (pandemic). We contacted through WhatsApp. They could have told me to quit. With Priyanka, we keep talking to each other. If you want to bring somebody else, do that, but, in the process, please do not humiliate me. I know both of them since childhood. His father (Rajiv Gandhi) was one year junior to me in school. I knew him since 1954, say 67 years. I am upset about this. First I offered my resignation, they refused to allow me to quit. But when they changed their mind, they should have phoned me again.”
Asked whether this was because of Priyanka and Rahul’s indecisiveness, Singh said: ”No, they are not much experienced. They have advisers like (K.C.) Venugopal and all these other fellows who tell them all sorts of things. These advisers do not know my character. When I know my time is up, I resign. I do not cling to anything.”
The former chief minister pointed out how Pakistan was crafting a plot to create turmoil in Punjab by sending in arms, explosives and drugs, and the state needed a government which could coordinate with the Centre to foil Pakistan’s designs. ‘Can Sidhu, who considers Pakistani leaders as his friends, coordinate with the BJP government at the Centre?, he asked. “The people of India can never trust Sidhu, and the Congress high command should not trust him too. …I will not allow Sidhu to win at any cost, whatever may be the sacrifice.”
Capt. Amarinder Singh said, how Sidhu used to praise Modi by reciting a poem, when he was in BJP, substituted Sonia’s name when he joined the Congress, used the same poem to praise Asaram Bapu, and a Jat Sikh like Sidhu, even used the same poem for praising Guru Nanak Dev.
As a seasoned politician, Capt. Amarinder Singh did not disclose his future plan in the interview. He sidestepped all questions relating to the next step he proposed to take, keeping all the cards close to his chest.
Watching the former chief minister speak, one feels sad how Sonia Gandhi did not trust him even after his 67-year-long relationship with her husband. Singh is unhappy because Rahul and Priyanka have trusted Sidhu, who joined the party only four years back, disregarding the 67-year-old family relationship.
The ex-army captain feels that the Congress, which was dominating in Punjab, will now dwindle to two-digit figure if Sidhu continues to lead the party. He is also unhappy over the fact that Rahul and Priyanka’s advisers have practically no knowledge about the political equations in Punjab. In his interview, the Captain also hinted at chances of Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot losing his throne.
Capt. Amarinder Singh was already planning to retire from politics, but after his unceremonious removal, as an ex-army man, he has decided to quit only after fighting his last battle. He has decided not to leave the political battlefield like a loser. The Captain clearly said, he would ensure that the Congress is defeated if it contests Punjab elections under Sidhu’s leadership.
The ground reality is that both Rahul and Priyanka have backed Sidhu as their best bet, with Channi as a stop gap arrangement, but with the Captain hardening his stand, the Congress game plan in Punjab could backfire.
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