Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday called Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra “inexperienced” and also threatened to pit a strong candidate against state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu in the coming assembly polls.
In no-holds-barred remarks, he called Mr Sidhu a “drama master” and a “dangerous man”, accusing him of behaving like a “Super CM” with the new chief minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, “simply nodding along”.
He also claimed that Punjab is now being run by the party from Delhi, according to a press statement issued here by an aide who summed up his interactions with the media.
Mr Singh resigned as chief minister on Saturday, after being locked in a bitter leadership fight for months with Mr Sidhu.
He submitted his resignation just ahead of the Congress Legislature Party meeting, which he said was called in a “secretive” manner.
“Priyanka and Rahul are like my children. This should not have ended like this. I am hurt,” the Congress veteran said.
“I would not have taken MLAs on a flight to Goa or some place. That is not how I operate. I don’t do gimmicks and the Gandhi siblings know that is not my way,” he said, in a possible reference to other states where the CMs have resorted to shows of strength.
The “Gandhi children” are quite “inexperienced” and their advisers are clearly “misguiding” them, he said.
Mr Singh said he will only leave politics on a high. “I was ready to leave after victory but never after a loss,” he said. He reiterated that his “options” are still open.
The former CM said he had offered his resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi three weeks earlier but she asked him to continue.
“If she had just called me and asked me to step down, I would have,” he said. “As a soldier, I know how to do my task and leave once I am called back.”
He told her he was ready to hang his boots and allow someone else to take over as the CM after leading the Congress to another sweeping win in Punjab, the statement said.
“But that did not happen, so I will fight.”
“You can be old at 40 and young at 80,” he added, making it clear that he did not see his age as a hurdle.
Mr Singh ridiculed the way Punjab was being run from Delhi now, the statement said.
He said as the chief minister he had called the shots and appointed his own ministers as he knew the capabilities of each one.
He questioned how Congress leaders like K C Venugopal, Ajay Maken and Randeep Singh Surjewala could decide who is good for which ministry.
The remark comes ahead of the expected expansion of the new cabinet. On Tuesday, Mr Channi and the two deputy chief ministers – Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni – flew to Delhi to discuss the composition of the new cabinet. Sidhu travelled with them.
Mentioning the “ostensible interference” by Sidhu in the CM’s domain, Mr Singh said the PPCC chief should just decide on party affairs. He claimed Mr Sidhu was “virtually dictating the terms, with Mr Channi simply nodding along”.
“I had a very good PPCC president. I took his advice but he never told me how to run the government,” he said, referring to Sunil Jakhar.
He said it was a “sad situation” for Punjab that Mr Sidhu, who could not handle his own ministry, should be managing the cabinet.
“If Sidhu behaves as the Super CM, the party won’t function,” he said.
Under this “drama master’s leadership”, it would be a big thing if the Congress managed to touch double digits in Punjab polls, Mr Singh added.
He called Mr Channi intelligent and well educated, but added that he had no experience in managing the home department, critical for Punjab that shares a 600-km border with Pakistan.
On accusations that he was inaccessible, Mr Singh said he had been elected to the Vidhan Sabha seven times and twice to Parliament. “There must be something right with me.”
The Congress leadership had evidently decided on making the change in Punjab and was trying to make a case for it, he claimed.
Referring to complaints that he had not taken “arbitrary action” against the Badals in the 2015 desecration case, the former CM said he believed in letting the law take its course.
“But now these people who were complaining against me are in power, let them throw the Akali leaders behind bars if they can,” he challenged.
On the new CM’s announcement on waiving water bills, he said Mr Channi must have discussed it with the former finance Minister. “I hope they don’t bankrupt the state,” he added.
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