Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi declared Tuesday that he would “lead the people of Punjab to Delhi” and sit outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence to support the farmers’ protest against the centre’s controversial farm laws.
“I will lead the people of Punjab to Delhi… I will sit outside PM’s residence in protest against the farm laws…” Mr Channi told reporters this evening, minutes after Navjot Sidhu resigned as chief of the Congress’ state unit, triggering a fresh leadership crisis for the Congress in the poll-bound state.
The declaration has been seen as significant given that opposition parties in Punjab had repeatedly criticised the ruling Congress over his predecessor – Amarinder Singh – not doing something similar.
Last week Amarinder Singh had urged Mr Channi to ensure the state government stands with the beleaguered farmers of Punjab “who have sacrificed their lives in our collective fight for justice”.
The Congress in Punjab – where an Assembly election will be held next year – has stressed on its support for farmers in recent days, with Mr Channi’s Council of Ministers meeting yesterday to pass a resolution in support of the farmers’ ‘Bharat Bandh’ on Monday.
Mr Sidhu also tweeted, declaring that the party’s state unit stood firmly behind the farmers.
The national push against the laws is widely seen as being driven by agriculturists from Punjab.
Mr Channi also said “I don’t know anything yet” when asked about Mr Sidhu’s sudden resignation.
“He is our chief and a good leader… what can I say when I don’t know anything?” he told reporters, adding, “Sidhu saab para mera poora confidence hai (I have every confidence in Sidhu).”
Mr Channi’s comments come on a day of sudden drama in Punjab, where a Congress that believed itself in the clear after Mr Singh’s acrimonious resignation suddenly finds itself in trouble once again.
Navjot Sidhu’s resignation is seen as a huge blow, given that the Gandhi family was warned – by Amarinder Singh – about appointing the former cricketer as Punjab Congress chief.
Mr Sidhu’s surprise move came as Mr Channi – who is seen as being close to him – was making changes to the Punjab cabinet. And though Mr Sidhu was widely seen as a “Super Chief Minister” in some of the decisions, he was reportedly not consulted, or ignored, in others seen as controversial.
However, at his press conference today, Mr Channi also said “he (Navjot Sidhu) is not upset with me”.
Amarinder Singh, meanwhile, is now in Delhi.
Buzz that he had a meeting lined up with top BJP leaders JP Nadda and Amit Shah triggered wild speculation the disgruntled veteran Congressman was set to switch sides.
Mr Singh’s media advisor, Raveen Thukral, later tweeted to dispel such rumours.
On Amarinder Singh’s Delhi visit, Mr Channi would only say: “He is our Punjab leader… he would go to Delhi in the interest of Punjab state.”