It is very obvious now that Captain Amarinder Singh has made up his mind to sever his association with the Congress, to probably form his own political outfit. The former Chief Minister is in a combative mood and has declared that he would be putting up a strong candidate against the Pradesh party chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu to ensure his defeat.
This announcement itself implies that the only way he can field a nominee against Sidhu is by leaving the Congress since by being a part of it, this wish can never be fulfilled. What is also baffling is that when the Captain talks about a strong candidate, he seems to forget that there is no one more formidable than him who can actually give Sidhu a run for his money.
The speculation that is doing the rounds of political circles is that he would pit himself against his bête noire to set up the mother of all fights in the state Assembly elections next year. It is also evident that he would exercise his options as and when the appropriate time comes.
The Captain’s comments about Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, that they were both inexperienced prompted the Congress spokesperson to state that there was no place for anger in politics. The former CM reacted by asking whether there was space for humiliation. In fact, he had quit from his post following repeated attempts to run him down by undermining his position. The Congress-Captain war would gather momentum once the new council of ministers gets finalised.
The party realises that the soldier-politician would never go down without a fight and his tall stature as a leader would always make it difficult to write him off permanently. Therefore, the spokesperson has offered no comments regarding his possible dissociation with the Congress in the near future.
Amarinder is also seething with anger since most of those whom he had appointed to various positions have been replaced by the new dispensation, which appears to be following every diktat from Delhi. The Chief Secretary and the DGP have been changed and this should not have come as a surprise for anyone. However, what is to be seen is whether his loyalists find a place in the new Cabinet. And if they do not, then the new round of confrontation would begin.
The frequent summons to the new Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi to come to the national capital to discuss the ministry making with both Rahul and Priyanka are also sending wrong signals. Channi should not appear to be either a puppet of the Gandhis nor should he look like an understudy to Sidhu, if he has to prolong his political innings.
I am reminded of my conversation with the late Virbhadra Singh, former CM of Himachal Pradesh who recalled how he was fully supported by the then Congress president and Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, after being chosen to head the hill state. Virbhadra before leaving for Shimla to take up his assignment had asked Indira Gandhi to suggest the names of people who should be in his Cabinet, to which the former Prime Minister had firmly told him to make his own team. “If I have to select your ministers, why would I send you there”, she had commented.
Indira Gandhi’s grandchildren have taken a different route and are preoccupying themselves with ministry making in Punjab which should have been left to Channi and his close associates. The Gandhis believe that they have emerged powerful after forcing Amarinder to resign.
The message that has gone out is that if they can ease out someone as powerful as Amarinder, they can do it to everyone else also. The “Remove Amarinder Operation” has similarity with what Sanjay Gandhi did in the mid-1970s when Congress satraps declined to accept his authority. After a run-in with Rajni Patel, the influential and assertive treasurer of the party in Mumbai, Sanjay got him sacked within 24 hours, thus sending a clear signal that if his authority was challenged, others could meet the same fate.
However, Sanjay did this because Indira Gandhi fully supported him. With Congress imploding at this juncture, it is very important for the high command to keep the senior leaders with them. Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot seems to be in the firing line and the Gandhi siblings have already had two meetings with “rebel” Sachin Pilot. Conjectures have started whether Gehlot would be replaced by Pilot, or somebody from the Jat community may be selected to be the new Rajasthan CM.
What most people seem to forget is that Gehlot has been with the organisation for nearly 50 years and has deep roots in the party. While holding the august office, he, unlike Amarinder, ensured that his interests were protected amongst senior leaders also. Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, the late Ahmed Patel, always gave him a protective cover and was instrumental in improving his relations with the family.
Coming back to Punjab, it is extremely important for the Congress high command to understand the politics that is at work. Channi should be made to look like his own man and not someone who is a stop-gap arrangement. Making a Dalit as the CM is something Congress has done in the past as well; Jagannath Pahadia in Rajasthan, Bhola Paswan Shastri in Bihar, D. Sanjivayya in Andhra Pradesh and Sushil Shinde in Maharashtra. Thus, Channi needs to be given his own space. Between us.