'Change was very much needed for the Congress to win the 2022 assembly elections.'
Captain Amarinder Singh (retd)'s exit as Punjab chief minister startled several political observers in New Delhi.
Six months ago, when Sidhu launched his rebellion against Captain Singh, few thought that the cricketer-turned-politician, who had swung to the Congress from the Bharatiya Janata Party, would succeed in his mutiny.
Sidhu, however, failed to get the chief minister's post which many thought he would get after Captain Singh's exit.
Malvinder Singh Mali, a former advisor to Sidhu, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf that Sidhu didn't want the CM's post at this stage.
How do you view the developments leading to Amarinder Singh's exit?
One has to understand that there was anger among the people of Punjab against Captain Amarinder Singh over his style of functioning.
It was like he had outsourced the work of the Punjab government. Political will in running the government was over.
Poll promises made in the manifesto were not kept.
This was in complete contrast to what he did during his previous term as CM (2002-2007).
The Congress high command gave him time to improve and change things, but he kept on living in denial mode by saying that he had completed 93 per cent of the poll promises.
The state Congress unit tried to point out that promises like reducing power tariff or bringing a white paper on these issues (were not fulfilled).
Sidhu demanded that Punjab must bring a law against the Narendra Modi government's farm laws, claiming that it is 'illegal' for the Centre to enact such laws as farming was a state subject.
But Captain did not take this advice.
He stopped listening to the state Congress and the party high command.
Therefore, there was no other way except his exit.
Change was very much needed at the top level for the Congress to win the 2022 assembly elections.
Isn't it surprising that a veteran politician like Amarinder failed to read the situation on the ground and also the minds of his party leaders?
When Amarinder rejoined the Congress (in 1998), the Beant Singh-led Congress government was ruling Punjab [Amarinder Singh resigned from the Congress in June 1984 to protest the army action during Operation Bluestar. He had then joined the Akali Dal].
He had formed his own party (after breaking away from the Akali Dal) in 1992, named Shiromani Akali Dal-Panthic.
He could not be a people's man (even during) that time.
After he rejoined the Congress (in 1998), he came to the limelight after putting pressure on the Congress high command.
Pratap Bajwa had to resign his post due to him.
Amarinder, in his early avatar as a politician, did take steps which were bold, like he resigned from his post when the Darbar Sahib was attacked by the Indian military (in 1984).
Another time he resigned when the police entered the Golden Temple.
Through such moves, his stature grew among the Sikh community.
He thought that this will continue forever and that the Congress high command will never take action against him.
In the 2000s, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was in power at the Centre, he proved his mettle by protesting outside the prime minister's residence, demanding money for CCL (cash credit limit) to purchase wheat.
He also took bold steps while in the Opposition (in Punjab) by raising his voice against corruption. but sadly did not take much action against corrupt people after he formed the government.
Do you think Amarinder Singh's political career is over, given that he will be 80 next March?
Amarinder Singh started toeing Modi's line and not the line of Punjab.
He always said Punjab is a border state and is crucial for national security.
He was taking such stances that were more pro-Bharatiya Janata Party in nature and, therefore, his future in the Congress was getting jettisoned day by day.
Today, he has become totally isolated in the party.
After resigning, he made tall claims that he will do this and that, but nothing happened.
In politics, however, one cannot write off anyone because circumstances change all the time.
In Punjab politics, he might not grow (anymore), but, I think, he can play some role in national politics.
Sidhu didn't become CM. He is a Jat Sikh and many political observers felt that the next CM would be from the Jat Sikh community.
Punjab does not need a 'Jat Sikh card', a 'Dalit Sikh card' or a 'Punjabi Hindu card'. What Punjab needs is 'a Punjab card'.
Today, there is brotherhood among Punjabis of all communities and, therefore, the 'Hindu-Sikh card' is not going to work.
Though (Sunil) Jakhar and (Sukhjinder) Randhawa put a twist to the selection of the CM post by playing the 'Hindu card', that did not work. Moreover, it was very clear from Day 1 that Sidhu would not become the CM.
The present Congress government in Punjab is that of Amarinder Singh. The party was in his pocket and Sunil Jakhar was only a titular party chief.
Today, the party is being strengthened by Pargat Singh (Congress MLA and retired hockey star) and Sidhu on the ground.
Sidhu's politics and vision have not been accepted totally by the Congress. He has his appeal and the party high command is with him.
No one believed that Sidhu's rebellion would lead to Amarinder Singh's exit as he (Sidhu) came from the BJP.
Sidhu works with commitment. When he was with the BJP, he took on (Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh) Majithia and others to task.
He has his own style of working. Sidhu's appeal and range is far-reaching among the people of Punjab.
These two Congress leaders -- Sidhu and Pargat -- never made their own coterie in the party.
They just raised the issues which were relevant to the public and good for their welfare.
Earlier, the Punjab politics was about faces -- like Amarinder Singh or (Aam Aadmi Party chief) Arvind Kejriwal.
This has changed now. People want elections to be fought on issues and not on prominent faces.
Therefore, Sidhu is gaining popularity as he is raising the right issues for the welfare of the people.
How true is it that Sidhu, being a Jat Sikh, could not get the CM's post as other Jat Sikh leaders in the party opposed his elevation?
That is not true. Punjab wants a Punjabi card. The BJP used to say they will give a Dalit CM to Punjab by making Vijay Sampla chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
Iqbal Singh Lalpura too was given an important post as chairman of the National Commission for Minorities.
(Former President) Giani Zail Singh's grandson Inderjeet Singh was also accommodated in the BJP.
By making Charanjit Singh Channi CM, the Congress gave a strong reply to the BJP's (Dalit) politics.
Will Channi as CM help the Congress win Punjab in 2022?
It will definitely help the Congress in the assembly elections.
Moreover, they have a popular leader like Sidhu with them, which is a huge advantage.
One must note that the AAP leader in Punjab is also from the scheduled castes (Harpal Singh Cheema). The Akalis too are saying they will make a Dalit deputy CM (if the Akali Dal wins the 2022 election).
At this moment, one can say the Congress has checkmated its rivals in Punjab by making this move.
It is being speculated that Amarinder Singh may leave the Congress and join the BJP. Do you see such a possibility?
No way. It could have been a possibility before the farmers' protest, but not now.
No one can think of joining the BJP in Punjab because of the three farm laws.