Days ahead of a meeting with Sonia Gandhi on the growing dissent in Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh appears to have won over his biggest critic, Partap Singh Bajwa.
Mr Bajwa, a Rajya Sabha MP, is learnt to have “sealed” a compromise with Amarinder Singh, aka “Captain”, his long-time rival and target. But Mr Bajwa officially denied reports of a secret meeting with the Chief Minister and said his differences with him were “issue-based, not personal”.
“We are part of a family. If I invite him, I will inform everyone,” the Congress MP told reporters today.
Sources said the two leaders met in Chandigarh last week and the Chief Minister was finally able to get Mr Bajwa in his corner in the fight against Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Amarinder Singh has been holding meetings with MLAs and MPs over the past few days to try and tackle dissent ahead of the Punjab election next year. Another motive for pacifying his detractors is a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, where the Amarinder Singh versus Navjot Sidhu feud is likely to be the main agenda.
Mr Bajwa’s support is important as his relentless criticism and attacks have been among the greatest pain points for the Chief Minister in the past few years. Mr Bajwa has also been a rallying point for rebels in the state. His younger brother Fateh Jung Bajwa is a Congress MLA.
Earlier this month, the Congress called its Punjab leaders, MPs and MLAs to Delhi for a series of meetings to come up with a way of resolving the crisis.
A three-member panel tasked with recommending a solution said that Amarinder Singh should stay Chief Minister in Punjab but Mr Sidhu should be “suitably accommodated” with a bigger role in the party.
Reports suggest that the Chief Minister has been resistant to the idea of any big role for his rival either in his cabinet – as Deputy – or in the party organisation.
Mr Sidhu quit the Punjab cabinet in 2019 when he his ministry was downgraded. After a long sulk, he once again started targeting the Chief Minister after the Punjab government suffered a legal setback in a 2015 case involving the desecration of the Sikh religious text Guru Granth Sahib and police firing during peaceful protests.
The attacks turned into a full-fledged revolt against Mr Singh.
Mr Bajwa is seen to be in Mr Sidhu’s camp. “When Navjot Sidhu was coming to the Congress, the senior Punjab leadership was creating hurdles and wanted to stop his entry. I had intervened and recommended that he would be an asset to the party. He is like my brother,” he said.
On Mr Sidhu’s elevation, he added: “No Colonel can become General overnight. The most capable Colonel will also have to wait for some time. We have left this to the party high command, we will accept their decision. I have also clarified that I am not a candidate for any post.”