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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has praised Punjab Congress chief Navjot Sidhu – whose repeated criticism of his own party has made life difficult ahead of next year’s election – saying the former cricketer was “raising the public’s issues… but Congress is hell-bent on suppressing him”.
“What Sidhu said yesterday on stage … I applaud his bravery. (Chief Minister Charanjit) Channi was saying ‘I have finished sand mafia in the state and reduced sand prices to Rs 5 per kg’. Immediately, Sidhu said, ‘No… that is a lie. The rate is still Rs 20’,” Mr Kejriwal told reporters.

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“Sidhu himself said whatever promises Channi is making are false. Sidhu is raising the public’s issues but Congress is hell-bent on surprising him. First Captain sahib (ex-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh) and now Channi sahib is pressuring him… Sidhuji is doing a great job of sticking to his principles.”

Mr Kejriwal also took pot-shots of his own at Mr Channi, drawing from Sidhu’s playbook in accusing the ruling Congress of having failed to meet its 2017 poll promises in Punjab. Earlier he also slammed Mr Channi for copying his campaign, which includes standard AAP promises of free electricity.

In Punjab to campaign for next year’s election, Arvind Kejriwal’s praise has raised eyebrows given rumours earlier this year (and last year) the former cricketer may join the AAP.

Those rumours surfaced at the height of the Amarinder-Sidhu feud, when the Captain called Sidhu an “opportunist” and said he could join the AAP. A furious Sidhu hit back, challenging Mr Singh to prove he had met Arvind Kejriwal or any leader of any other party.

Reports from last year quoted Mr Kejriwal as saying “he (Sidhu) is welcome”.

Sidhu, who joined the Congress from the BJP ahead of the 2017 Punjab election, has been vocal in his attacks on his own party and Chief Minister Channi in the build-up to next year’s election, continuing attacks he mounted when Amarinder Singh was in charge.

Those attacks exacerbated the divide between himself and Mr Singh, and brought the Congress’ Punjab government to the verge of collapse before an “insulted” Amarinder Singh quit.

Last month Sidhu, who has since also clashed with Mr Channi – wrote to Sonia Gandhi – a 13-point agenda on “priority areas” of governance and promises made to the Punjabi people before the 2017 polls. These included action in the 2015 sacrilege case and cracking down on the sand mafia.

Mr Sidhu, the biggest critic of Mr Singh, had hoped to succeed him to the top post but, with eye on the sizable Dalit population, the Congress opted to install Mr Channi as the Chief Minister.

Sidhu then ran into trouble with Mr Channi as soon as he took over, falling out over top appointments and a cabinet reshuffle. Sidhu threatened to quit unless he got his way, which he did last week after the Chief Minister appointed his pick as Advocate-General.

In his letter, the outgoing Advocate-General, APS Deol, slammed Sidhu for “spreading misinformation to gain a political advantage over colleagues”.

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