Capt or Sidhu? Congress confused who to support

CHANDIGARH: The issue has once again also exposed the inherent contradiction in Punjab Congress, especially the divergent stands taken by chief minister Amarinder Singh and cabinet minister on attending the groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan scheduled for Wednesday.

On Monday, Congress leaders appreciated Amarinder’s decision to stay away from the ceremony despite getting a formal invite but kept mum on Sidhu’s decision to attend. Some of them were, however, quick to add that it wouldn’t have been much of an issue had Amarinder decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“Going to Pakistan gels with Sidhu’s tendency to hog the limelight and he is already getting accolades on social media for bringing the corridor into focus with his last visit. For him, it is in continuation of the same event. As for Amarinder, he too has taken a considered view as the head of the state and a former soldier. In addition, the Congress would have some representation in form of Sidhu and will not be able to walk away with all the credit,” said a senior party leader.

Congress leaders, however, admit that there was confusion over whether they should endorse Amarinder’s decision to decline Pakistan’s invitation, or hail Sidhu for getting things moving for the corridor.

“Last time, Sidhu said he was going in his personal capacity as Imran was his friend. Though the party doesn’t seem to have told him not to visit Pakistan, Sidhu’s proximity to the central leadership, particularly Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi seems to be given him the advantage to do things his way and not necessarily toe the line taken by the head of the state,” confided a party leader.

The corridor issue also comes at a time when Sidhu and his ex-MLA wife Navjot Kaur were being targeted by the opposition for the Amritsar rail tragedy that claimed 61 lives on Dussehra.

Though Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar on Sunday appreciated Sidhu’s efforts in making the new regime in Pakistan approve the project, a day later, he had to issue an official statement, lauding Amarinder’s decision to decline Pakistan’s invitation as a ‘principled stand’ taken in the best interests of Punjab and the entire nation. The move is being seen as an attempt to rule out any conflicting voices in the party. Earlier, Sidhu’s hugging Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had created fissures in his party’s state unit.

“Given Amarinder’s charisma, he would have surely stolen the limelight if he were to attend the function on the other side despite Akali union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s presence. The chief minister has rightly taken a moral high ground. Otherwise, people have such strong emotions for the corridor that they wouldn’t have thought of troubled relations between India and Pakistan as long as the project was on its way,” claimed another senior Congress leader.

Reacting to Sidhu’s decision, Amarinder said it was “his way of thinking” but he personally could not think of going there while Indian soldiers and civilians were being killed by them.

Congress leaders also point out that Sidhu did help revive the corridor issue after his Pakistan visit for his ‘friend’ Imran Khan’s swearing in as Pakistan’s prime minister in August, Amarinder too has been repeatedly writing to the Centre to raise the demand.

Cabinet minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, a known Amarinder loyalist said, “In the green signal to the corridor, a major demand of Punjab Congress and CM Amarinder Singh has been fulfilled and especially the efforts made by the latter have borne fruit.”

“You have to also see it in the light of the historic fact grandfather of Amarinder, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, got the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib renovated when it was damaged during the floods in the Ravi before the Partition,” he added.
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