Amritsar, July 21 (IANS) In a first show of solidarity and strength, Punjab Congress unit's newly-appointed President Navjot Singh Sidhu, accompanying 62 legislators, comprising many state Cabinet ministers, on Wednesday paid obeisance at the Golden Temple here.
However, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is upset with Sidhu over his purported remarks against his government over the power crisis and the sacrilege issue, and his close confidants were conspicuously absent from Sidhu's maiden visit to his constituency and religious places here.
This was Sidhu's first visit to Amritsar after being appointed to the post by Congress President Sonia Gandhi on July 18, ending days of hectic lobbying and parleys within the Congress in Punjab.
Sidhu will assume charge at the Congress office in Chandigarh on July 23, said Kuljit Singh Nagra, the working President of the state unit.
He will be replacing outgoing President Sunil Jakhar, a prominent Hindu face who was at the helm for over four years.
Taking a jibe at the rivals, BJP national spokesman R.P. Singh tweeted, "Game on. Sidhu 62, Capt (Amarinder Singh) 15."
It is learnt that Sidhu had invited all 77 Congress lawmakers to pay obeisance at Golden Temple before he formally assumes the role of the state unit chief, but only 62 of them turned up.
After paying obeisance at the Golden Temple, Sidhu and the legislators visited the Durgiana Mandir and Ram Tirath Sthal, both prominent Hindu sites.
Earlier in the day, the Congress MLAs gathered at Sidhu's residence here and reached the Golden Temple complex in two chartered luxury buses.
On reaching the Golden Temple, they were given a warm welcome by the party functionaries.
The MLAs present included Raja Warring, Raaj Kumar Verka, Inderbir Bolaria, Barinder Dhillon, Madan Lal Jalapuri, Harminder Gill, Harjot Kamal, Harminder Jassi, Joginder Pal and Pargat Singh.
The Cabinet ministers included Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Charanjit Singh Channi and Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa.
The party high command has also appointed four legislators Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Kuljit Singh Nagra and Pawan Goel as working presidents of the party. They were accompanying the new party chief during his visit.
"If the Chief Minister can meet Sukhpal Khaira and Partap Bajwa, who made personal and damaging comments against him, what is the harm in meeting Sidhu?" Randhawa told the media.
Joining him, legislator Pargat Singh asked, "Why should Sidhu apologise? It is not a public issue. The Chief Minister has not solved many issues. In that case, he should also apologise to the public."
Toughening his stance, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday clarified that he won't meet Sidhu till he publicly apologised to him.
"Reports of @sherryontop seeking time to meet @capt_amarinder are totally false," Chief Minister's media advisor Raveen Thukral said in a tweet.
"No time has been sought whatsoever. No change in stance...CM won't meet #NavjotSinghSidhu till he publicly apologises for his personally derogatory social media attacks against him," he added.
Also, Cabinet minister Brahm Mohindra welcomed the appointment of Sidhu as the new state unit chief but ruled out a personal meeting with him till he resolves his issues with the Chief Minister.
In a statement, Mohindra has said the decision to appoint Sidhu had been taken by the high command and is welcome.
"However, I will not meet him (Sidhu) till he meets the Chief Minister and resolves his issues with him," said Mohindra, adding that Amarinder Singh is the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and all are duty-bound to follow him.
An adamant Amarinder Singh, who is reportedly upset with Sidhu, had categorically told state party in-charge Harish Rawat on July 17, a day before Sidhu's appointment, that there would be no rapprochement between the two until Sidhu apologises in public for his "derogatory tweets and interviews".
Cricketer-turned-politician Sidhu's political innings with the Congress is just a new phase and his rivals see him as a turncoat politician.
In March 2017, he was inducted as a Cabinet minister in the new Congress government in Punjab headed by Amarinder Singh.
At that time, Sidhu was not designated as Deputy Chief Minister, as was being speculated in political circles.
Sidhu's journey in the Congress began in January 2017, just days ahead of the February 4 Assembly election in Punjab, by winning the Amritsar-east Assembly seat with a margin of over 42,000 votes.
Sidhu had earlier remained Member of Parliament from Amritsar when he was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He was elected MP in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009.
He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Narendra Modi government in April 2016.
Ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, Sidhu had resigned from the Rajya Sabha and said: "At the behest of the Prime Minister, I had accepted RS (Rajya Sabha) nomination for the welfare of Punjab. With the closure of every window leading to Punjab, the purpose stands defeated, now a mere burden. I prefer not to carry it."
Within the Congress, Sidhu had been lying low since his resignation from the state Cabinet in July 2019.
He had resigned from his post as a Cabinet minister in the state on July 14, 2019 after differences with Amarinder Singh over portfolio allocation. Sidhu was in-charge of local bodies but was shifted to the Power Department.
Time and again he was meeting top party leaders, including Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi, and apprised them of the political situation in Punjab.