Navigating the faction-divided Punjab Congress, Raja Warring may come up against Sidhu’s wall
Barely a week after Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi appointed three-time party MP Amrinder Singh Brar aka Raja Warring, 44, as chairman of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC), the unit of the party state appears to be gearing up for a new round of factional fighting and divisiveness. Raja Warring replaced Navjot Singh Sidhu as leader of PPCCwho had resigned following the party’s debacle in recent Assembly polls following Gandhi’s directives.
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After taking charge of the Punjab Congress, Warring convened his first meeting of party leaders in Amritsar on Friday, but Sidhu jumped it and instead opted to meet with party dissidents like former PPCC leader Sunil Jakhar and expelled Congress leader Amrik Singh Dhillon.
Congress has been ousted from power in Assembly polls, which has been attributed mostly to its divisions and intense infighting. Amid a massive wave for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which swept the state, the big old party was routed in the polls, managing to win just 18 of 117 total seats.
The factionalism that plagued the Congress stemmed mainly from Sidhu’s aggressive bid to be declared ministerial leader of the party in the elections in place of incumbent CM and Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi. Jakhar was engaged in his own political postures.
Sidhu’s resentment was evident after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi declared Channi as the party’s CM candidate just before the elections. It was another matter that Channi lost from his two seats, Bhadaur and Chamkaur Sahib, in a state which has 32% Dalit population – the highest in the country. Sidhu also lost the elections in his constituency of Amritsar East.
Days after keeping a low profile following his resignation as Punjab Congress leader, Sidhu became active again, raising issues, meeting party leaders and activists and questioning the functioning of the new Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government. on a host of issues, including the law. and order and sand extraction.
This was seen as an attempt by Sidhu to engineer a return as head of state party unity. However, apparently upset with his performance and conduct as leader of the PPCC, particularly his persistent efforts to undermine Channi, the leadership of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) decided to ask Warring, a combative supporter, to lead the state unit.
Despite the wave of the AAP, Warring, considered close to Rahul Gandhi, managed to win his seat in Gidderbaha for the third consecutive time. He had been president of the Youth Congress from 2014 to 2018.
Although he did not attend the Congress meeting held by Warring, Sidhu met that day with the party’s four-time MP, Amrik Singh Dhillon, who was expelled by the leadership for running as an independent candidate. after the ticket has been refused. A number of former congressmen accompanied Sidhu during his meeting with Dhillon. He also met Jakhar, who was recently issued a show cause notice by the AICC’s disciplinary committee for using “objectionable language” in comments allegedly directed at Channi.
Sidhu also ensured that videos of his meetings with Congress leaders were posted on his social media accounts. These developments
indicate that with the AICC leadership pushing for the overhaul of the Punjab Congress and the outspoken cricketer-turned-politician determined to reassert himself, the factionalism gripping the unity of the state party could continue to rage.
Sidhu was the pet peeve of former captain CM Amarinder Singh, who led Congress to victory in the 2017 Assembly polls and led the Congress government in 2002-07. But he suffered an unceremonious exit in September last year when the party leadership replaced him with Channi as CM. Subsequently, Capt Amarinder quit Congress and started his own team which allied with the BJP in recent polls, although it was successful.
Sidhu had played a key role in making the terrain strange for Capt Amarinder. Apart from leading the Congress, the new PPCC President will be keeping a close eye on his game in state party affairs in the coming days.