CHANDIGARH, PUNJAB: Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has been stripped of a key portfolio in his long-running fight with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, hours after he chose a Facebook Live session with the media instead of attending a cabinet meeting. "I cannot be taken for granted... I have been singled out in spite of collective responsibility," said the former cricketer and TV personality.
This is the second major meet he has skipped since last month's national election, during which the two top leaders sparred openly and exposed the divide within the Congress in Punjab. Their intense rivalry has marked Amarinder Singh-led Congress government's two years so far.
Navjot Sidhu will no longer have the Local Government portfolio; he has been given charge of Power and Energy Sources. The portfolios of all but four ministers have been changed. The reallocation will bring in "freshness and efficacy", said the Chief Minister.
Last month, Mr Sidhu had stayed away from a meeting of lawmakers, ministers and newly-elected MPs called by Amarinder Singh aka "Captain" to assess the Congress's poll performance in Punjab.
The Amarinder Singh-Navjot Sidhu clash simmered throughout the election campaign with each blaming the other. Mr Sidhu accused the Chief Minister of blocking his wife Navjot Kaur's candidature from Amritsar. In a sulk, Mr Sidhu even went off the grid for more than 20 days without any explanation.
On May 23, Amarinder Singh had said the Congress failed to do well in urban areas because Mr Sidhu had handled his portfolio poorly. He also said his comments on the Guru Granth Sahib desecration had affected the party's performance in Bathinda.
The Akali Dal's Harsimrat Kaur Badal had defeated the Congress' Amarinder Singh Raja by a margin of 21,772 votes in Bathinda. Ms Badal described her victory as a "slap on the face of the Congress" for launching a "false campaign" against her.
The cricketer-turned-politician retorted that he was being unfairly "singled out" for the party's poor performance in the state. He also claimed that "some people" wanted him out of the party.
Punjab was one of the few states where the Congress had anything at all to cheer about. The party won eight of 13 Lok Sabha seats, up from three in 2014.
The war between the two leaders peaked when Mr Sidhu defied Mr Singh - also called "captain' -- to go to Pakistan for former cricketer Imran Khan's oath ceremony.
The Punjab Chief Minister was also critical of Mr Sidhu over a controversial hug with Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at that oath ceremony. "How could something like that be tolerated, especially by army personnel who are being killed by Pakistan-backed terrorists?" Amarinder Singh had questioned after the results, hinting that it could have been one of the many reasons for the Congress' loss in Bathinda.
The two leaders have been squabbling since Mr Sidhu quit the BJP and joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 assembly election in the state. But after Congress's victory, Mr Sidhu, who had been keen on a deputy Chief Minister's post, settled for a ministerial job--ndtv