Chandigarh, July 23
Navjot Singh Sidhu on Friday took over as president of the Punjab Congress in the presence of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who said they will work together for the welfare of Punjab, their public truce indicating an end to a fractious chapter in the party’s state unit.
Executing a bat stroke in the air with a flourish before heading to the rostrum, Sidhu told the packed house gathered at the party headquarters that the Congress was united and his aim was to work towards giving power back to the people.
“Punjab will win, Punjabis will win,” the once famous batsman and now politician said.
“All Congress workers in Punjab have become the party’s state unit chief today. There is no difference between a leader and a worker,” Sidhu said in an impassioned speech.
The Amritsar East MLA was appointed the Punjab Congress chief despite strong opposition from Amarinder Singh. He had earlier refused to meet Sidhu without an apology for the “derogatory” tweets against him.
Today was the first time in four months the two leaders met each other.
Sidhu takes over the reins of the party from Sunil Jakhar along with four working presidents—Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra – appointed by the party high command to assist him in the run-up to the state Assembly elections next year.
Without naming anyone, the former cricketer said in his speech in Punjabi that those who oppose him make him better.
Declaring he has no ego issues and will take everyone along and work shoulder-to-shoulder, he said, “We are incomplete without power of our workers, who are party’s soul.” The purpose of his party president’s post is to resolve people’s issues. If these are not resolved then it counts for nothing, he said.
At one point, he gestured towards Amarinder Singh on stage and said, “CM sahib, issues have to be resolved…”
The chief minister, on his part, also urged party workers to extend full support to the new state president.
“We will move together in politics. We have to think of Punjab’s welfare,” the chief minister said.
Pointing towards Sidhu, Amarinder Singh said they will work together towards the state’s welfare.
“And not just Punjab, we have responsibility for the country as our state shares a long border with Pakistan,” he asserted in his speech.
Striking a personal note, he recalled his ties with the Sidhu family, saying it was Navjot Sidhu’s father, the late Bhagwant Singh, who had asked him to enter politics.
He also recalled his mother, the late Mohinder Kaur, and Sidhu’s father, a former Congressman, working together.
In 1963, the year Sidhu was born, he said he was commissioned in the army. Amarinder Singh also recalled visiting the Sidhu home when Navjot Sidhu was six years old.
Though he was earlier opposed to Sidhu’s appointment, the chief minister said, “When Sonia Gandhi told me that the party wants to make Sidhu state unit chief, even then I had told the media that whatever decision Soniaji will take will be acceptable to us.”
Despite being seated next to each other on the stage and saying all the right things in their speeches, Sidhu and Amarinder Singh were not seen exchanging any words one on one.
Nonetheless, party workers are hoping Sidhu’s elevation and Amarinder Singh’s participation at the event brings back cohesion in the Punjab Congress.
Tension between Amarinder Singh and Sidhu flared up in April after the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed a probe report on a 2015 police firing incident in Kotkapura and other places following the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. Two protesters were killed.
The chief minister referred to that in his speech and said challans have been filed in these cases.
“The issue of Bargari, Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan had been raised. These issues are related to law. Challans have been filed in these cases. It takes time,” he said in an apparent response to the criticism of his government in the alleged delay in justice in the matter.
He said he had promised Punjab not to spare anyone who was involved in these incidents.
Sidhu has said he will be make himself available to workers at party office from August 15 onwards and also asked ministers to spare three hours at least to be there.
The event was attended by Congress general secretary Harish Rawat, who is also in-charge of Punjab affairs at the AICC. He urged party leaders and workers to unitedly to ensure win the 2022 assembly polls.
A two-minute silence was held as a mark of respect for three party workers, who died in an accident early in the day in Moga district while coming to attend the function.
In a letter on Thursday, Sidhu requested Amarinder Singh to come for the “installation ceremony”, calling him the “eldest of the Punjab Congress family” and saying he had “no personal agenda”.
All Punjab Congress MLAs, MPs and— Punjab Congress (@INCPunjab) July 22, 2021
senior party members are requested to be present at Congress Bhawan on Friday 23rd July at 10AM to set up the new team of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. pic.twitter.com/jpm3JP39wa
Softening his stance, the chief minister invited party MLAs for tea at Punjab Bhawan ahead of the installation ceremony at the party headquarters here.
Every move of the two leaders, whose feud threatened to splinter the Punjab Congress, was closely watched.
Ahead of taking charge of the state Congress, Sidhu met the chief minister at Punjab Bhawan here.
A video was circulating of Sidhu greeting the chief minister with, “How are you, sir?”Sidhu was stated to have gone out for a few minutes after Amarinder Singh reached Punjab Bhawan. When he returned, there is another video of him being asked to sit next to the chief minister as he tries to take a chair opposite him.
The two leaders were seen sitting next to each other at Punjab Bhawan and later at the party headquarters.
According to Congress MLA Pargat Singh, the meeting between the two at Punjab Bhawan was “cordial”.
The chief minister’s media adviser also tweeted pictures of the two leaders having a conversation.
Sidhu had resigned as a state minister in 2019 after he was divested of his local bodies portfolio. He had switched sides from the BJP to the Congress before the 2017 Assembly polls. PTI
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