Amarinder Singh quits as Punjab CM ahead of polls

Amarinder Singh resigned as Punjab chief minister on Saturday, just four months ahead of assembly elections, accusing the Congress high command of humiliating him and indicating that he will explore political options outside the party. The dramatic announcement was the culmination of a series of disputes with the leadership and the Gandhi family, which included the selection of Navjot Singh Sidhu as state party chief. This is despite Amarinder Singh’s longstanding ties with Sonia Gandhi as well as the late Rajiv Gandhi.

His resignation came an hour before a meeting of Congress MLAs that the high command had convened with All India Congress Committee (AICC) representatives. There was speculation that a section of party legislators would criticise Singh’s style of functioning and demand a change of guard at the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting. Amarinder Singh said he hadn’t been informed of the meeting, adding to his list of grievances.

The party commands a majority in the state house but the seeds of division have clearly been sown in the Punjab Congress with Singh’s angry exit at a crucial juncture.

“I was humiliated three times by the Congress leadership in the past two months,” Singh told reporters in Chandigarh after submitting his resignation to the governor. “They called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now convened CLP here in Chandigarh today. So, I have decided and informed the Congress president in the morning that I will resign.”

His one-line resignation letter to the governor read, “I hereby tender my resignation as chief minister, and that of my council of ministers.”

Singh made clear that battle lines were drawn, opposing any move to elevate Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Sidhu as the next chief minister, saying it was a national security issue.

‘There is Always an Option’

“For the sake of my country, I will oppose his (Sidhu’s) name as CM of Punjab. It is a matter of national security. Pakistan PM Imran Khan is his friend. Sidhu has a relation with (Pak) army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa,” Singh told reporters.

Many in the Congress party said the comments were aimed at the Gandhis for picking Sidhu as PCC chief, describing him as “incompetent” and “unstable.” Singh was accompanied on his gubernatorial trip by a group of party functionaries, including Congress MPs Gurjeet Singh Aujla and Ravneet Singh Bittu, wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh. He said the state party chief was incapable of becoming the chief minister. “Apparently they (Congress high command) do not have confidence in me and did not think I could handle my job,” Singh told reporters. “But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair. Let them appoint who they trust.” Among the 80 Congress MLAs in the 117-seat house, Singh is expected to retain the support of two dozen hardcore loyalists, who may accompany him on his next move.

The AICC hopes that it will be able to stem any further erosion as MLAs will be looking to be renominated as Congress candidates and because of Singh’s advancing age — he’s 79 — but what worries party circles is the manner in which the blowup could play out on the ground in the run-up to the polls. The political heavyweight, who has been the face of the Punjab Congress for almost two decades and chief minister for almost 10 years, made clear that he wasn’t going to fade away into retirement but would fight it out.

“In politics, there is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes,” Singh said. “At the moment, I am still in Congress. I have been around in politics for 50 years now and I will discuss with my supporters to decide (the next course).”

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