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Navjot Singh Sidhu ‘inclined’ to join Congress: Amarinder Singh

New Delhi:Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s prospects of joining the Congress fold brightened on Tuesday with Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh announcing he has met the former BJP MP and he is “inclined” to support the party.

Congress on Tuesday also got a shot in its arm with two Akali legislators Mahesh Inder Singh and Rajwinder Kaur Bhagike joining the party in the presence of the PCC chief, giving a major jolt to the ruling Akali Dal in poll-bound Punjab. Sidhu is likely to join the party and assume a new role later this month after the party declares its candidates, the sources said. The party is expected to announced its candidates on December 9 or 10, as its Central Election Committee headed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is likely to meet on December 8, where the final list will be drawn up.

Top Congress leaders today held internal consultations over selection of party candidates at the meeting of Central Screening Committee headed by former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Confirming the meeting with Sidhu, Amarinder said the former cricketer was inclined to support the Congress and would soon make an announcement regarding his plan. “I can tell you that I have met him. I hope very soon he will be making his announcement. I found him in a very positive frame of mind. I hope it will be a positive decision,” Amarinder said.

Sidhu’s entry into Congress has been speculated for a long time now. His wife Navjot Kaur joined the party recently, giving ample indications that he would also come on board. Asked specifically if Sidhu will be formally joining the Congress or not, the PCC chief said, “I think he will announce it himself. Let’s wait for the announcement in a few days time. But the impression I got, without any commitment from his side, is that he was inclined to support us.” The former Punjab Chief Minister said he does not think that Sidhu is interested in contesting the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat and is likely to campaign for the party.

“He just has to make up his mind whether he has to carry on with his work or whether he wants to actively join politics. The way he is talking, I feel he would like to campaign for the Congress party, but that he would announce himself,” he said. Sidhu was earlier in talks with AAP but it did not materialise leading to a split in his recently formed outfit Awaaz-E-Punjab. Meanwhile, the two joinees today, Mahesh Inder Singh representing the Baghapurana Assembly seat and Rajwinder Kaur who is the sitting MLA from Nihal Singh Wala constituency, expressed their disillusionment and anger with the Akali leadership.

“We can be their loyalists but not slaves. The insult meted out to me by sending police at my residence has hit me.

They think they can terrorise me. I have quit the Akali Dal not for being denied a party ticket but because of the humiliation,” Mahesh Inder Singh said.

Welcoming them into the party fold, Amarinder said this will help strengthen the Congress party ahead of the upcoming polls. He reiterated that the exodus of leaders and workers from SAD and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would further increase as the elections drew closer, especially after the imposition of the Code of Conduct in Punjab.

“As per the tradition, there is no commitment in their joining the Congress. They have joined unconditionally. I welcome them into the Congress fold and I hope their joining will strengthen the party further,” Amarinder said. Besides welcoming Rajinder Kaur and Mahesh Inder Singh, Amarinder also welcomed SAD leader Pritam Singh Kotbhai and social activist from Phillaur Ajay Sharma, into the Congress fold. Kotbhai had lost narrowly to the Congress candidate in the last election.

In response to a question about Rahul Gandhi’s elevation, Amarinder said such a move would certainly be beneficial for the party in Punjab. He also rejected suggestions that AAP was a threat to Congress in the upcoming elections and said its initial advantage had died down and the party was losing out. Expressing concern over fallout of demonetisation, he said his personal view was that its objective to eliminate black money was good but the implementation was bad.

He said that with 86 per cent of currency out of circulation, the government should have prepared itself better before making the announcement. Replying to a question on the Income Tax department’s complaint against him, he said there was no substance in the case and it was deliberately done out of “politically motivation”.

He said that his foreign assets case was first raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was pitched against BJP’s Arun Jaitley in Amritsar during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “He raised it in 2014 elections in Barmer. The fact that they have done it now, indicates it is politically motivated,” he said.