File photo of Navjot Singh Sidhu. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
'Rahul Gandhi is the captain of the captain,' Sidhu said. The captain was a reference to Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Three ministers in turn said Sidhu should resign if he did not consider Singh to be his captain.
Three Punjab ministers Saturday called for Navjot Singh Sidhu's resignation from the state cabinet over his jibe at Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, a fallout of the controversial politician's recent trip to Kartarpur in Pakistan.
The row over the trip escalated in the state even as Sidhu backtracked on his claim that Congress president Rahul Gandhi was involved in his decision to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur corridor.
"Get your facts right before you distort them, Rahul Gandhi Ji never asked me to go to Pakistan. The whole world knows I went to Pakistan on Prime Minister Imran Khan's personal invite," Sidhu tweeted.
A day earlier in Hyderabad, Sidhu had mocked Capt Amarinder Singh, when reporters asked him about going to Pakistan despite his disapproval.
"Rahul Gandhi is my captain. It is he who sent me to Pakistan. Rahul Gandhi is the captain of the captain (Amarinder Singh) also," Sidhu had then said.
If he doesn't recognize Capt sahab as his captain then he should resign. Ofcourse,Rahul ji is our India captain but Punjab captain is Amarinder Singh. Sidhu sahab is an extraordinary person and has a long career ahead,he must choose words carefully:TR Bajwa,Punjab Minister (1.11) pic.twitter.com/eVIFcku3ue— ANI (@ANI) December 2, 2018
Reacting to this, the Punjab ministers said if Sidhu, who holds the local bodies and tourism portfolios, didn't consider Amarinder Singh to be his captain, he should quit the chief minister's team.
Sidhu was attacked over his Hyderabad remark by Rural Development and Panchayat minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Revenue and Rehabilitation minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Sports Minister Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi. Sodhi said other ministers too are backing Amarinder Singh on this.
"Among the ministers I spoke with are Aruna Chaudhary and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot. We are all solidly behind Capt Amarinder Singh," Sodhi said.
Sources said the issue is likely to be raised in the state cabinet meeting on Monday
"If he does not consider Capt Amarinder as his captain then he should resign on moral grounds from the cabinet and do whatever work is assigned to him by Rahul Gandhi," Bajwa said.
He said Sidhu should apologise to the chief minister.
"He will have to accept Captain sahib as his leader in Punjab," Bajwa said.
"My advice to the younger brother is to speak less and concentrate on work," he added. Sarkaria said Sidhu's language while referring to the chief minister was "objectionable."
"Rahul Gandhi is our leader, he is our party's national president. In Punjab, the government is headed by Capt Amarinder Singh, who is our captain in the state and we all work like a team under his leadership," he said.
"If Sidhu or anyone else has a problem with this and cannot work under his leadership, he must resign," the minister said. Sodhi called the ex-cricketer's jibe "distasteful".
"While Rahul ji heads our party, Capt Amarinder is the captain of Punjab government. It is Captain sahib who helped bring back Congress to power in Punjab," he said.
"If Mr Sidhu thinks that Amarinder ji is not the captain in the state, or if anybody else doesn't accept him as the captain of the team, they can follow their own course," Sodhi told PTI.
Congress MLA Raj Kumar Verka said, "The party does not agree with Navjot Singh Sidhu's statement, which is objectionable."
Sidhu's wife and former BJP MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu asserted that everyone in the Congress is Rahul Gandhi's soldier.
"We are individual soldiers of the Indian National Congress. We are not the soldiers of the CM sahib or the ministers here," she said Saturday.
Even while taking a dig at Amarinder Singh in Hyderabad, Sidhu had said he is a "father figure" for him.
The Kartarpur corridor will connect the shrine in Pakistan to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Gurdaspur, across the border between the two countries.
The planned corridor will give visa-free access to Indian pilgrims to the place where Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last years of his life.
Sidhu's visit to Pakistan had riled Amarinder Singh, who said he tried to dissuade Sidhu, following a grenade attack in Amritsar that left three people dead.
Since his return from Kartarpur, Sidhu has been criticised for lavishing praise on Imran Khan, who too showered special attention on him.
He was also targeted over a photograph which showed him posing with Gopal Singh Chawla, the Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee head who is considered pro-Khalistan.
But Sidhu claimed "tens of thousands" of people wanted to take pictures with him in Kartarpur and he didn't know Chawla.