Dissent within Congress brewing against Punjab CM

Chandigarh (IANS) A simmering dissent is brewing between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his legislators over their party's government in Punjab.

Congress sources suggest the cause of provocation is disconnect or deliberate side-stepping of a certain section of legislators, who say unbridled powers to handful bureaucrats is hampering their day-to-day working and deliberately ignoring the party's interests.

The workers too are largely feeling disillusioned.

Besides, from the Congress central leadership, there is a demand to suitably compensate "sulking" legislator Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been pushed to sidelines, by re-inducting him into the Cabinet and some changes in the portfolios.

"The central leadership wants to use Sidhu as a trump card in the next elections if there is a vacuum in party leadership. For a long time, Sidhu can't be kept on the sidelines as he was the star campaigner in the last state assembly elections," a senior party leader told IANS, requesting anonymity.

In the run-up to the assembly elections in March 2017, Amarinder Singh played an emotional card, saying it will be his last election.

"Secondly, a certain section of senior legislators such as Rana K.P. Singh want to be at the helm with important portfolios," he said.

Three-time legislator Rana K.P. is currently the Speaker.

For over a month, four ruling party legislators, all belonging to Amarinder's wife parliamentary constituency Patiala, are airing their anger against the government on several issues, including lack of development funds, at Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meetings and at public platforms.

Sensing growing resentment, the Chief Minister has called all the legislators in groups next week in Chandigarh to hear their grievances and allocate funds in the presence of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sunil Jakhar.

Sidhu, who used to swear loyalty to Rahul Gandhi, had to exit from the government after differences with party veteran and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

Sidhu, who had been at loggerheads with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, formally resigned on July 14. Since then he has limited public appearances.

Sources said the common grouse against the government is going soft on former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his family as their businesses are flourishing right under the nose of the government.

Some ministers, it is learnt, believe the bureaucracy is ruling the roost, political feedback is not taken periodically and the Chief Minister's Office works in incognito.

Former senior bureaucrat Suresh Kumar was hand-picked by Amarinder when he became the Chief Minister.

The officer, known for his impeccable, honest and upright approach, is often referred to as the "Super CM" in Punjab's political circles in the past 32 months.

"Many legislators are upset. Just to quell the dissent and to give a new face to the cabinet, the reshuffle is the only option left with Amarinder Singh. In that reshuffle, Sidhu can be compensated by re-induction," a Cabinet minister told IANS.

Also, the Chief Minister wants to compensate his "close aide" Rana Gurjit Singh, who was forced to quit in January 2018 after embroiling in controversies related to the multi-crore rupee benami sand mining auctions and conflicts of interest in his role as a minister and his family's business interests.

"If Sidhu is adjusted at the instance of the party leadership, then Rana Gurjit Singh will get the Cabinet berth," said the minister, requesting anonymity.

But seeing the tone and tenor of Amarinder Singh's assertions, Sidhu's "rehabilitation" in political circles is seen in the fag end of the government.

In his latest "snub" with the Pakistan Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid's disclosure that Kartarpur Corridor was the brainchild of their Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Amarinder Singh, 77, also urged Sidhu to be more cautious in his dealings with the Imran Khan government.

The "scion of Patiala", who fought in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, advised Sidhu not to allow his personal friendship with the Pakistan Prime Minister cloud his judgement in any way, as that could be harmful for India's interests.

The Congress had won 77 seats in the 117-member state assembly in 2017 after projecting Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial nominee, only one short of 78 figure required for a two-thirds majority.

In the October assembly by-election, the Congress won three seats, while the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal won one.

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