Kharge-Led Congress Panel Says Punjab Unit Must Promote Second-Rung Leaders

All the important factions which have been critical of Amarinder Singh’s leadership needed to be accommodated to quell the ongoing dissidence, the panel told Sonia Gandhi.

New Delhi: The All India Congress Committee (AICC) panel led by leader of opposition Mallikarjun Kharge that was deputed to look into infighting within the Punjab Congress has recommended the need to actively promote second-rung leaders, even while acknowledging that the chief minister remains the tallest party leader in the state.

In a report submitted to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, the panel, which also included senior leaders J.P. Aggarwal and general secretary-in-charge of Punjab Harish Rawat, emphasised that all the important factions which have been critical of Singh’s leadership needed to be accommodated to quell the ongoing dissidence.

This may mean that the final decision to mollify Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been at the forefront of the rebellion against the chief minister, and others will now have to be taken by Gandhi.

The Hindu reported that among the 20-odd recommendations, the panel also suggested a complete revamp of the Punjab unit of the party ahead of the state assembly elections in 2022. The report also talks about constituting a panel which would actively look into requests/complaints by MLAs and other leaders, given the fact that many have complained about the chief minister being inaccessible.

Ahead of the next elections, the panel has also suggested initiating welfare schemes for targeted groups like farmers and Scheduled Castes.

Over the last few days, the panel met around 150 party leaders to find a resolution to the infighting, which has reflected poorly on the party and the state government, especially at a time when the Congress stands on a solid wicket in the backdrop of the farmers’ agitations.

The chief minister has been arguing that the high command should put a leader from the Hindu community as the PCC president, given the government is already led by a Jat Sikh, but a large chunk of dissenting leaders appear to have resisted such a suggestion. Last week, both Sidhu and Singh met the panel in New Delhi, with both defending their positions. While Sidhu is reported to have complained about the chief minister’s unilateral decision making and inaccessibility, Singh is said to have countered him by sharing his governance record.

While Sidhu is reported to be angling for the position of deputy chief minister, Singh seems to have advocated that there should be more than one deputy chief minister, one belonging to the Dalit community.

Congress leaders are likely to meet on Friday to take crucial decisions based on the panel’s recommendations.

But the task doesn’t appear to be an easy one. Speaking to the Indian Express, a senior party leader said, “There is so much bad blood… There is Amarinder on one side, Sidhu on the other, and many do not want a newcomer (Sidhu) to be given an important assignment. If the situation is not resolved properly, the party may have to pay a price in the 2022 elections.”

However, senior leaders of the party said that a majority of the Congress leaders in the state acknowledged the fact that Singh is the most popular leader in the state, despite his alleged shortcomings.