Express News Service

CHANDIGARH:  Embattled Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday managed to draw 58 MLAs and eight MPs to a dinner hosted by his supporter in a clear show of strength.

The dinner diplomacy comes a day after the AICC stated Amarinder would lead the Congress’ charge in the upcoming Assembly polls amid rebellion by four ministers and 28 MLAs.

Punjab Assembly has 117 seats, with Congress legislators occupying 80 of them.

Sources in the Amarinder camp claimed the dinner was hosted by Punjab Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi at his official residence and was attended by 58 MLAs and eight MPs.

Notable absences were those of transport minister Razia Sultana and food Supplies minister Bharat Bhusan Ashu. While a few rebel MLAs attended, the four rebel ministers were absent.  

Observers said the dinner diplomacy was a clever move, as it was not hosted by Amarinder but by his loyalist Sodhi and the large gathering indicated the rebellion has been quelled. Raveen Thukral, media advisor to Amarinder, tweeted: “I had invited like-minded @INCPunjab MPs & MLAs for dinner. 58 MLAs & 8 MPs graciously accepted my invitation & expressed the confidence that the party would win the 2022 polls under the leadership of @capt_amarinder. The journey has started today’: @iranasodhi.’’

An MLA, who was present at the dinner, said, “It is a show of strength against the Opposition. Navjot Singh Sidhu is part of the party and this event presents a united front.”

When asked about the rebellion, he said: “They are our family and they will come back. They could not attend the dinner as they are in Delhi.” 

Action against Mali, Garg

Meanwhile, the high command has told Sidhu to drop his aides Malwinder Singh Mali and Pyare Lal Garg. The action comes in the wake of the controversy created by their statements on Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. 

Sources said Rawat had earlier asked Sidhu to rein-in Mali and Garg, but later told him to drop them. Later, Rawat said if Sidhu did not sack them, then he would.