With opposition mounting attack on Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu in connection with a 30-year-old road rage case, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh scotched speculation that the Congress leader would be resigning from the state cabinet. The Chief Minister said there was no question of asking Sidhu, the Tourism, Culture and Local Government minister, to quit.
Last week, the state government in the Supreme Court had favoured the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict convicting and awarding a three-year jail term to Sidhu in the 1988 case. Gurnam Singh, a Patiala resident, had died after he was given fist blow by Sidhu.
Amarinder pointed out that the apex court had stayed Sidhu’s conviction in 2007 and was yet to pronounce its final verdict on his petition challenging the high court order. The question of the minister resigning, merely because the state government had repeated its stand of 30-years in the case before the Supreme Court, did not arise, he added.
“There was neither any impediment in Sidhu’s induction into the cabinet nor in his continuation now, in view of the stay on his conviction”, Amarinder said in a statement here.
The categorical clarification from the Chief Minister came amid reports suggesting that Sidhu had been asked to resign, and also in the wake of the demand from the opposition that he should step down.
However, the Chief Minister once again expressed the hope “that the judge would take cognizance of Sidhu’s contribution to the society and the country in deciding the case.”
Reacting to reports suggesting that the government had deliberately not supported the minister in the apex court, the Chief Minister stressed that unless the prosecution received new inputs, it was not legally possible for it to add a new element to its arguments.
“Taking a U-turn from the stand taken by the government in the trial and high courts was not an option for the government,” he added.
In September 1999, a trial court had acquitted Sidhu of the murder charge. However, the High Court reversed the verdict and held him and co-accused Rupinder Singh Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in December, 2006.
The high court sentenced them to three-year imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on the convicts.
After the Punjab government favoured a court verdict convicting Sidhu in the road rage case, the minister had tried to put on a brave face, saying he was ready to carry “any burden” that he may have to because of his own governments stance, even as Opposition demanded he quit the Cabinet.