One week is a long time in politics and the Congress has in this short duration put itself in a losing position by allowing its opponents to have an upper hand on account of mishandling as well as Navjot Singh Sidhu’s bhangra politics.
The ousted Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh is back in the game and is at present setting the agenda, which is causing acute embarrassment to the Congress high command. His main attack on the party, which he intends to leave very shortly, is that it has humiliated him and thus he had no plans to continue his association with the very leaders who plotted his removal.
The humiliation of the Captain, without doubt the tallest leader of Punjab, is being viewed as an issue, which could ensure the defeat of the Congress in next year’s Assembly polls. Similarities between Amarinder’s insult and an incident in Hyderabad in 1982 when the late Rajiv Gandhi, then a general secretary of the party, had admonished the then Chief Minister, T. Anjaiah by calling him a buffoon, are being cited to foretell the future course of events.
Anjaiah’s humiliation became an issue of hurting the Telugu pride despite the state supporting the Congress during its most difficult times. N.T. Rama Rao seized the opportunity and floated the TDP to wrest control of the government in the 1983 elections.
In Punjab, the Captain is regarded as a father figure and has a considerable following amongst the people, particularly Hindus and Jat Sikhs. Criticism regarding his style of working had been building up for many months but no one could imagine that he would be pushed out of office in such an unceremonious manner. The central leadership should have accepted his resignation when he offered it three weeks ago, without attempting to force him out by convening a meeting of the Legislature Party on 18 September.
The experienced politician and former soldier pre-empted the Congress move of replacing him by tendering his resignation. Sonia Gandhi had telephonically told him on that morning that he should quit and make way for someone else.
Looking back, it was anticipated that Captain’s bête noire, Navjot Singh Sidhu, the PCC president who ran a campaign questioning his own party’s government, would be his natural successor. In the flip flop that followed, several names were considered and dropped before appointing Charanjit Singh Channi as the new CM.
Channi is an experienced leader from the Dalit community and is well regarded by his opponents as well. But his appointment sent out a clear signal to Sidhu that it would be extremely difficult for him to be the CM face of the party since replacing a Dalit would have countrywide ramifications. This meant that Sidhu was out of the race.
The ideal line of action of the party should have been that instead of Channi, Sidhu should have been appointed the CM, with Channi and Om Parkash Soni as his two deputies and Sukjinder Singh Randhawa as the PCC chief. All other ministers of Amarinder’s Cabinet should have been included, besides two new entrants. This would have been accepted by all.
The immediate repercussion was that the former cricketer, instead of waiting for his time to strike, took everyone by surprise and announced his resignation. The Captain was quick to react and stated that he had been vindicated because he always maintained that Sidhu was not stable and fit to lead the state.
The high command was caught on the wrong foot and tried to placate Sidhu exposing its own weakness. Once Sidhu had publicly announced his resignation, it should have been accepted immediately and he should have been expelled from the primary membership by appointing a new PCC chief. This did not happen since the high command has no institutional mechanism to deal with such an eventuality.
The Captain wrested the opportunity. While on a two-day visit to the national capital, he met both Home Minister Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval, triggering speculation that he has a blueprint ready for his future and was likely to form his own party that would contest the elections reducing the chances of Congress. The Captain would wait for the Congress to declare its candidates and the hopefuls who are excluded would be enticed to join him. The other option for the Congressmen who are denied tickets would be to approach the Aam Aadmi Party, which is likely to emerge as the single largest political entity in the state.
Punjab has been witnessing a social unrest due to the farmers’ agitation but the inexperienced Congress high command has pushed the party towards defeat, thus creating conditions that may take the shape of a political unrest as well.
The Captain and the BJP’s approach regarding national security is identical and there is no reason to believe that the BJP leadership would not try to take advantage of the fast-changing scenario. The contentious farm laws can be withdrawn thereby making the saffron brigade a claimant for the 23 Hindu seats of the state.
The Congress has lost the initiative to set the agenda for the Assembly polls and it is certainly not going to be easy to retrieve the situation with the Captain breathing down the neck of his former colleagues. Political uncertainty has also provided a lifeline to the Akalis, who are back in the game. It is the Congress that has been harmed by its Bhangra politics. Between us.