Rahul Gandhi today said the Congress will announce a Chief Minister candidate in Punjab ahead of polls if the “party or its workers” want it. With a raging Navjot Sidhu versus Charanjit Singh Channi rivalry threatening to hurt the Congress campaign in the only state it rules, he stressed that “two people can’t lead, only one can”.
“We will fulfil your demand for a Chief Minister candidate as soon as possible. Usually, we do not declare a Chief Minister face but if Congress workers want, we will select a face as well. But we will consult Congress workers. They will decide,” Rahul Gandhi said in Jalandhar on his daylong visit to Punjab to launch the party’s campaign for next month’s polls.
The party had earlier said the decision would be taken only after the February 14 election.
Mr Gandhi made the comments with both Punjab Congress chief Navjot Sidhu and Chief Minister Charanjit Channi on stage; their swipes at each other have been getting louder and more embarrassing for the party by the day.
Mr Gandhi had a message for both and he also referred to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to drive it home.
“Two people can’t lead, only one can lead. If one leads, the other has promised to extend all the support. Both have the Congress’ thoughts in their heart.”
Punjab, said Mr Gandhi, needs now is peace and brotherhood.
“Our experience is that hundreds of Congress workers have shed their blood. Come what may, we will never let anything disturb the peace in the state. We know how to take everyone along. I have learnt a lot from you all and learnt from Manmohan Singh,” he said.
Before the Congress leader spoke, the feuding leaders declared they would not hanker for the post or defy the party.
Navjot Sidhu “assured” Rahul Gandhi that he would accept his decision, no matter what.
“People have this question in their mind — who will rescue them from this crisis (in Punjab). And what’s the roadmap. And the third question which people are asking is that who is the face who will implement these reforms,” Mr Sidhu said.
“Like a disciplined soldier, I assure Rahul Gandhi that I will abide by his decision,” he asserted.
At the same time, the Punjab Congress chief dropped unsubtle hints that he wanted more decision-making power and would not be treated like a “showpiece”.
“We are all united…we are not fighting for TRPs – we are fighting to form the next government. For that, if need be you can bury me and I won’t raise a voice. But give me decision-making power, and don’t treat me like a showpiece,” said the cricketer-turned-politician.
Chief Minister Channi attempted a show of unity as he called Mr Sidhu and other Congress colleagues closer.
“I am not after any post. You decide any name for Chief Minister and I will be the first one to canvass for him,” Mr Channi said.
“Sidhu saab, with folded hands I am saying – an outsider like (Arvind) Kejriwal should not say that the Congress has infighting,” said the Chief Minister dramatically.
Mr Channi took over as Punjab Chief Minister in September after the Congress sacked Amarinder Singh, Mr Sidhu’s arch-rival.
But Mr Sidhu’s ties with the new Chief Minister have been far from smooth as neither is willing to pass up on the top job.
Punjab votes next month with four other states and the results will be declared on March 10.