Amid turmoil, Congress veteran Amarinder Singh quits as Punjab CM

Captain Amarinder Singh
Amarinder Singh. File photo: PTI

Chandigarh/New Delhi: Declaring that he felt humiliated, Congress veteran Amarinder Singh on Saturday resigned as chief minister of Punjab, ending one chapter of dissent but throwing open another of uncertainty for the ruling party in the state headed towards elections in about four months.

Amarinder Singh, one of the Congress' powerful regional satraps, put in his papers after speaking to party president Sonia Gandhi and shortly before a crucial meeting of the Congress Legislature Party.   

"The thing is that this is the third time the party called the MLAs. You have an element of doubt on me... I feel humiliated," he told reporters outside the Punjab Raj Bhawan after submitting his resignation to Governor Banwarilal Purohit.

Over 50 MLAs in the party had written to Gandhi seeking that Amarinder Singh be replaced as chief minister, a move that capped months of a fractious feud between him and Navjot Singh Sidhu who was recently made state Congress president much against the senior leader's wishes.

The Congress has 80 MLAs in the 117-member state assembly.

Amarinder Singh, credited with putting the party back in the saddle in Punjab after an intensely fought poll battle that decimated the Shiromani Akali Dal and stymied the Aam Aadmi Party's hopes, submitted his resignation along with that of his council of ministers a little after 4.35 pm.

Indicating that the dissension-riven party could see more tension, Amarinder Singh said when asked about his future course of action, "As far as my future politics is concerned, there is always an option and I will use that option when time comes."

"I am in the Congress party. I will talk to my supporters and decide future course of politics," he said and added that the leadership could make anyone it trusts the chief minister. 

I have been in politics for the last 52 years and I have been chief minister for nine-and-a-half years, the veteran politician added as his party entered another phase of uncertainty under a new chief minister who will have little time to settle down before the election fever begins. 

The 79-year-old was accompanied by his wife and MP Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh when he submitted his resignation.

"I am proud to accompany my father to Raj Bhawan when he submits his resignation as CM of Punjab and leads us as head of our family into a new beginning," Raninder Singh said in a tweet earlier in the afternoon.

The MLAs  in their letter had sought the convening of the CLP meeting, being held at at the Congress Bhawan in Chandigarh. The high command has deputed senior party leaders Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary as central observers.

AICC general secretary in-charge for Punjab affairs of the party Harish Rawat was also present during the meeting.

Sidhu and some other party leaders were present at the Chandigarh airport to receive Rawat and the two observers. 

The unrest in the state unit does not bode well for the Congress in Punjab, where it is hoping to be elected back to power. The hope was that calm would return after Amarinder Singh's bete noire Sidhu was appointed PCC president but that might not happen.

Sidhu, who has been eyeing the chief minister's post, however, is unlikely to be a probable choice for the chief minister's replacement, sources pointed out.

They said the Congress -- also battling intra-party crises in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where its governments are in power -- is trying to balance equations in the state and is likely to appoint a Hindu face to the top post. The name of former PCC chief Sunil Jakhar is doing the rounds. Jakhar, who is not an MLA, is believed to be close to the top leadership. 

The sources termed the current crisis "serious" with so many MLAs seeking the chief minister's replacement so close to elections.  

In a cryptic tweet, Jakhar lauded Rahul Gandhi for the "bold" solution taken in Punjab to resolve the leadership crisis.

"Kudos to Sh Rahul Gandhi for adopting Alexandrian solution to this Punjabi version of Gordian knot. Surprisingly, this bold leadership decision to resolve Punjab Congress imbroglio has not only enthralled congress workers but has sent shudders down the spines of Akalis," he said.

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