Navjot Sidhu’s Rallies Bare Congress’s Biggest Punjab Hurdle. It’s Not AAP

Navjot Sidhu’s Rallies Bare Congress’s Biggest Punjab Hurdle. It’s Not AAP

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Navjot Sidhu's Rallies Bare Congress's Biggest Punjab Hurdle. It's Not AAP

Navjot Sidhu’s rallies have drawn a sharp response from Punjab Congress. PTI

Chandigarh:

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s rallies and Punjab Congress’s sharp response have yet again turned the spotlight on the infighting within the Congress that may prove to be a bigger challenge than political rivals AAP and BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Mr Sidhu has been holding rallies in different parts of Punjab without a clearance from the state party unit. Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring has warned that indiscipline will attract expulsion from the party. “Nobody is above the party. Whoever wants to do something can do without Congress’s symbol and platform,” he said in response to a media query on the rallies.

Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa has also taken a swipe at Mr Sidhu. “When you (Sidhu) were the PPCC president, you brought (Congress) from 78 (seats in 2017) to 18 (seats in 2022). Now, what more does he want?” Mr Bajwa said. Urging the retired cricketer to join the party protests, he said, “Come to that stage and speak what you want. Setting up ‘apna nawan akhara’ (own stage) is not a good thing. No Punjab Congressman considers it good,” he added.

Mr Sidhu, however, remains unfazed. “If 5,000-7,000 people gather at some place, why does someone have a stomach ache? For whom are we fighting? We are fighting to change this system in Punjab,” he said recently. At his rallies, Mr Sidhu has been targeting both the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Bhagwant Mann dispensation in Punjab.  

The face-off has also sparked speculation that Mr Sidhu may be planning a return to the BJP, which he left in 2017 to join the Congress. If he eventually makes the switch, he will join the long list of Congress leaders who exited the party over the past few years. This list of heavyweights includes former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and former minister and state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, who joined the BJP in 2022.

The Congress-to-BJP switchovers of Punjab leaders point to a weakening of Congress’s organisational strength that paved the way for its ouster in the 2022 polls. The Grand Old Party has decided to go solo in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls after months of tussle with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP is Congress’s ally in the INDIA bloc but its arch-rival in Punjab. But as the polls draw close, it appears Congress’s real fight is to set its house in order.

Trouble In Haryana, Himachal Too

The Congress’s infighting troubles are not limited to Punjab. In neighbouring Haryana, the power tussle between former Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the troika of senior leaders Kumari Selja, Randeep Surjewala and Kiran Chaudhary, is out in the open. The three leaders — often referred to as the SRK group –recently skipped the first meeting of the state Congress’s election committee in Delhi on Saturday.

The tension within the Congress has prompted the BJP to take a swipe. Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said the Congress stands no chance against the BJP. “In Haryana, first let these people come together. One day, Selja Kumari takes out a rally. The next day, Bhupinder Hooda takes out a rally. Selja does not go to Bhupinder Hooda’s rally and Bhupinder Hooda does not go to Selja’s rally. Can they fight with us? They cannot,” he said, according to an ANI report.

In Himachal Pradesh, too, the Congress is on a bumpy road. State minister Vikramaditya Singh, son of former Chief Minister, late Virbhadra Singh, appeared to publicly criticise his party’s government over the recently-tabled budget. In a Facebook post, Vikramaditya Singh said that he has noted how the mention of several social sections was missing from the budget and had raised the matter with Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.

Earlier, Vikramaditya Singh’s mother and state Congress chief Pratibha Singh had congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The minister also attended the consecration ceremony, despite the Congress high command’s announcement that it will stay away from the event.

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