Congress veteran Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday resigned as chief minister of Punjab with less than five months to go for the Assembly polls after a bruising power struggle with state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and said he felt "humiliated" over the way the party handled the protracted crisis. The 79-year-old Amarinder Singh, one of the Congress' powerful regional satraps, put in his papers after speaking to party president Sonia Gandhi and shortly before a crucial meeting of the Congress Legislature Party(CLP) in Chandigarh in the evening.
He later launched a no-holds-barred attack against Navjot Singh Sidhu, describing his bete noire, a cricketer-turned-politician, as a "total disaster".
Besides Navjot Singh Sidhu, among the names doing the rounds as Amarinder Singh's replacement included former PCC chiefs Sunil Jakhar and Pratap Bajwa and state ministers Sukhjinder Randhawa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, and Tript Rajinder Bajwa. Punjab always had a Sikh chief minister after the reorganisation of the state in 1966. Congress sources said the party -- also battling dissensions in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where its governments are in power -- is trying to balance equations in the poll-bound state and is likely to appoint a Hindu face like Jakhar to the top post. Jakhar, who is not an MLA, is believed to be close to the top Congress leadership.
"I have resigned, let them make anyone (next CM) whom they trust, said Amarinder Singh, who had led the Congress back to power in Punjab with an overwhelming majority in 2017 polls. Before this, Amarinder Singh, a scion of the erstwhile Patiala royal family and a former Army officer, had served as chief minister from 2002-07.
"I spoke to the Congress president in the morning and I told her that I am resigning today," Amarinder Singh told reporters outside the Punjab Raj Bhawan after submitting his resignation to Governor Banwarilal Purohit. "They called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now convened a CLP in Chandigarh today," he said.
"I think if there is an element of doubt on me that I could not run (the government) or if there was something else, I feel humiliated the way things have happened." Over 50 MLAs in the party had written to Sonia Gandhi seeking that Amarinder Singh is replaced as chief minister, a move that capped months of a fractious feud between him and Navjot Singh Sidhu who was recently made state Congress president much against the senior leader's wishes. The Congress has 80 MLAs in the 117-member state assembly. A resolution passed unanimously at the CLP meeting authorised Sonia Gandhi to pick its new leader.
The CLP meeting was convened by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) with its general secretary and in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat making the announcement in a tweet shortly before midnight on Friday. Such meetings are usually called by the chief minister as he is the CLP leader in the state. Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was one of the two central observers deputed by the party, told reporters that 78 of the 80 party MLAs were present at the meeting.
He said another resolution praising and thanking Amarinder Singh for his contribution towards Punjab and the Congress was also unanimously passed at the meeting. "We expect that the party will continue to get the guidance from Amarinder Singh," he said.
At another media interaction, Amarinder Singh said he won't agree and accept Navjot Singh Sidhu as the chief minister. He dubbed Navjot Singh Sidhu as "anti-national, dangerous, unstable, incompetent" and even a security threat to the state and the country.
The man who could not handle one ministry can never run the entire Punjab, the outgoing CM added. "He is a total disaster. When he was a minister (in the outgoing cabinet), he could not even run one ministry, now can he run the entire Punjab? I know that man has no capability at all." If Navjot Singh Sidhu is made the face of the Congress for the Punjab polls, Amarinder Singh said he will oppose him "tooth and nail". The current term of the state Assembly ends on March 27 next year.
In a cryptic tweet, Jakhar, the son of former Lok Sabha Speaker and Congress stalwart Balram Jakhar, lauded Rahul Gandhi for the "bold" solution taken in Punjab to resolve the leadership crisis. "Kudos to Sh Rahul Gandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled Congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis," he said.
Amarinder Singh, credited with putting the party back in the saddle in Punjab after an intensely fought poll battle that decimated the Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD) and stymied the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) hopes, submitted his resignation along with that of his council of ministers a little after 4.35 pm. Indicating that the dissension-driven party could see more tension, Amarinder Singh said when asked about his future course of action, "As far as my future politics is concerned, there is always an option and I will use that option when the time comes."
"I am in the Congress party. I will talk to my supporters and decide the future course of politics. I have been in politics for the last 52 years and I have been chief minister for nine-and-a-half years, the veteran politician added as his party entered another phase of uncertainty under a new chief minister who will have little time to settle down before the election fever begins."
Amarinder Singh was accompanied by his wife and MP Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh when he submitted his resignation. The unrest in the state unit does not bode well for the Congress in Punjab, where it is hoping to be elected back to power. The hope was that calm would return after Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed PCC president but that might not happen. Trouble between the two factions has been brewing for a long. Navjot Singh Sidhu has been at loggerheads with Amarinder Singh ever since he quit the Punjab cabinet as a minister in 2019. He had become more vocal in his views in the last some months.
Last month, four ministers and around two dozen party legislators had raised the banner of revolt against the Punjab chief minister and said they had no faith in Amarinder Singh's ability to honour unfulfilled promises.
First Published: IST