It was an intriguing sight in Chandigarh on Monday. The freshly minted Congress Punjab president Navjot Singh Sidhu went on a door-to-door meeting spree with a battery of MLAs and senior Congress leaders, cutting cakes, feeding sweets, patting the backs and most importantly, building the new ‘Sidhu Team’.
There was neither a meeting with Captain Amarinder Singh nor a congratulatory message from the CM yet. But the new Sidhu XI, with plenty of reserves in the true cricketing sense, seems to be taking shape. The top order here are the MLAs who were the first to land at his Patiala residence on Monday morning after the big announcement came through last night – Amarinder Singh Raja, Kulbir Singh Zira and Nirmal Singh Shutrana. Raja and Zira were in fact with Sidhu in his car all day as he went to Chandigarh, with Raja driving Sidhu’s car. Midway, MLA Madan Lal Jalalpur also joined Sidhu in his car.
Jalandhar MLA and former Indian Hockey captain, Pargat Singh, is already in Sidhu’s top order by sticking by the side of his sportsman buddy when no one else did. A new side of Sidhu also seems to be on display now on the advice of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra – that of a leader who was earlier seen as arrogant and a loner, to one who is proactively reaching out to MLAs and leaders now and himself going to their homes rather than exercise protocol that the MLAs come and meet him first.
Sidhu’s Experienced Middle Order
The first stop of Sidhu on Monday was the Mohali residence of Kuljit Singh Nagra, MLA and one of the four newly appointed working presidents whom Sidhu warmly hugged. Nagra arranged a cake and sweets for Sidhu and said a new beginning was being made in Punjab with Sidhu’s “game-changer” appointment. Sidhu took Nagra along to his next stop, the house of Punjab Congress Youth President Brinder Dhillon.
Dhillon and Nagra’s support to Sidhu is crucial for him to get the Congress cadre to rally for him and they could form the reliable middle-order of Sidhu’s team. Both of then, along with Raja and Zira, represent the young Congress in the state. All these leaders then went to meet former Congress President Sunil Jakhar and Cabinet Minister Razia Sultana before converging for High Tea at the house of Minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa who seems the new strong anchor in Sidhu’s team.
It was at Bajwa’s residence that 25 MLAs posed for a group photograph with Sidhu, sending out a strong message of the new dynamics in Punjab. While nearly half of the Congress state leadership was at Bajwa’s residence in Sector 2 of Chandigarh with Sidhu, less than 200 meters away the CM was also at his official residence meeting his loyalist leaders. But there is no news yet of a meeting between Sidhu and the Chief Minister.
Sidhu also visited former Congress CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and later also went to Punjab Congress Bhawan in Chandigarh.
The Lower Order
Sidhu is also working on getting those ignored by Captain Amarinder Singh on his side. Before coming to Chandigarh on Monday, Sidhu went to houses of Congress MLAs in Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Patiala to get them on his side. MLA Pargat Singh was with Sidhu on Sunday when he went to meet MLA Bawa Henry and his father, former minister Avtar Henry to seek their support. MLA Sangat Singh Gilziyan had also reached Henry’s residence to meet Sidhu on Sunday. Sidhu also met two other MLAs, Gurkirat Singh Kotli and Lakhbir Singh Lakha on Sunday.
Another minister emerging as a strong anchor for Sidhu’s new team is Sukhjinder Randhawa, who accompanied Sidhu when he met MLAs Madan Lal Jalalpur and Nirmal Singh Shaturana in Patiala on Sunday. At his meeting with Jalalpur, MLAs Virender Pahada and Darshan Singh Brar were present. Sidhu personally called up all these MLAs, expressing his desire to meet them, taking many of them aback before he landed at their homes.
Sidhu is set to meet more MLAs as he leaves for Amritsar on Tuesday for a visit to the Golden Temple and Durgiana Temple, where a grand welcome awaits him in his old constituency. Most from the new ‘Sidhu Team’ are already calling him the new big hope of Punjab, projecting him as the face and saying the demotivated cadre of the Congress in Punjab has been re-energised with Sidhu’s appointment as the state congress chief.
A studied silence in Captain Amarinder Singh’s camp continues.