Punjab CM, Navjot Sidhu meet over tea; return to cabinet discussed

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Chandigarh, Mar 17 (PTI) Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu met over tea on Wednesday, discussing the possible reinduction of the cricketer-turned-politician’s into the state cabinet.

The 40-minute meeting at the chief minister’s farmhouse near here comes amid speculation over rehabilitation of the Congress MLA, who quit the state cabinet after being stripped of a key portfolio by the CM.

The chief minister's media advisor shared on Twitter photographs of the two leaders together, indicating a thaw in their strained relations.

The issue of the Amritsar East MLA's return to the cabinet was discussed at the meeting, it is learnt. But there has been no official word on this.

Sports minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, who accompanied the MLA to the CM’s farmhouse at Siswan in Mohali, said the two leaders hugged each other at the meeting. Sodhi said there is no ill-will or differences between the two.

Sidhu was earlier invited by the CM for lunch but the meeting was rescheduled for tea at 4 pm because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's video conference with all chief ministers to discuss the fight against COVID-19.

The ex-cricketer had resigned from the Punjab cabinet in 2019 after being stripped of the Local Bodies portfolio. He and the CM had not been on good terms for some time.

This was the second meeting between the two since then. The first meeting took place in November and was seen as a move by the CM to break the ice.

The Congress central leadership has been trying to rehabilitate Sidhu since his resignation, party leaders say.

Harish Rawat, who is in charge of Punjab affairs at the AICC, has been pushing for an important position for him. Last month, Sidhu also met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi.

For the past several weeks, the Congress circles have been abuzz with speculation over a key cabinet berth for Sidhu again. There has also been talk of appointing him the state Congress president.

The tension between Amarinder Singh and Sidhu had come out in the open in May 2019 when the CM blamed him for the 'inept handling' of the Local Government Department, claiming it had resulted in the 'poor performance' of the Congress in urban areas in the Lok Sabha polls.

Sidhu was later stripped of this portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle, after which he resigned.

Hours before Wednesday’s meeting, his wife told reporters that Sidhu was not after any post but only wanted to serve the people of the state.

Navjot Kaur Sidhu said she and her husband and are not in politics for any position. 'Otherwise, he could have been a Union minister,” she claimed, referring to his decision to quit the ruling BJP in 2016.

“Our struggle is only for Punjab and it will always be that,” she said.

Navjot Kaur Sidhu was appointed president of the women wing of All India Jat Mahasabha (Punjab) on Wednesday.

The Punjab Assembly polls are due early next year. PTI CHS VSD ASH ASH ASH