Not allowing the momentum of victory to be lost in Punjab, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has asserted his authority by downsizing the stormy petrel of his state, Navjot Singh Sidhu. In a clear message to the high command, which has been promoting the former Indian batsman and TV entertainer, Amarinder has demonstrated that in Punjab, he was the indisputable person in charge, and thus would not allow any interference whatsoever from any quarter, as long as he was there.
The outcome in the Parliamentary elections has indicated that if the Congress was strong anywhere, it was only in Punjab. This was so because the Captain has repeatedly proved that his hold over both the state, and the party was absolute, and he would not permit leaders such as Sidhu to disparage him. By divesting him of the local bodies’ portfolio, Amarinder has blamed Sidhu for the average performance of the party in urban seats as a stark contrast to the rural areas. Earlier, Sidhu had insinuated that the Captain was hand-in-glove with the Akalis and as a consequence had indirectly contributed to their victory in some seats.
Tension between the Chief Minister and Sidhu had been brewing for quite some time now, with the latter taking unnecessary pot shots at his boss. Sidhu is undoubtedly popular amongst certain sections of the state, and by claiming credit for the Kartarpur Corridor, following his controversial visit to Pakistan, he had sought to position himself as the number two in the Punjab Cabinet. He needed little encouragement to express his views on the manner in which Punjab was being administered due to his seemingly close proximity to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
In fact, during the polls, Sidhu was furnished with a helicopter by the Congress, to campaign in over 120 places in the country and his name figured prominently amongst star campaigners of the party. It was only in Punjab, that the Chief Minister did not allow him to disrupt the political balance, and even when Priyanka visited the state, accompanied by Sidhu in the same chopper, Amarinder gave him the royal ignore.
The Captain is a war veteran and knows how and when to fight his battles. He has been always respectful of the Gandhis, but has never allowed them to have any kind of overbearing control over administrative matters. The Gandhis, on their part, are aware that he is the foremost performing asset of the party and to interfere in Punjab affairs needlessly can be counterproductive at this stage.
Therefore, the timing of the Captain’s Cabinet revamp was perfect when the central leadership is most vulnerable. Rahul Gandhi is adamant on resigning and the party is struggling to find his successor. Supporters of former Chief Ministers, Sheila Dikshit and Prithviraj Chavan are lobbying extensively for their names to be considered. Disconcerted by the developments, Sonia Gandhi is grappling with the emerging situation. Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is upset that he is not receiving adequate support from the leadership. He has been complaining to others over the kind of treatment he has been meted out despite the victory of his son from Tamil Nadu.
There is a revolt which is stirring in several states, with MLAs deserting the Congress both in Telangana and Maharashtra for greener pastures. In Rajasthan, there is an open confrontation in progress between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot. In adjoining Haryana, the faction fight is at its peak. In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Kamal Nath is in a defiant mood. The absence of his son, Nakul Nath, the recently elected MP from Chhindwara, at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting last week, was viewed as an act of expressing his displeasure.
Therefore it is not a matter of surprise that Sidhu’s wings have been clipped nice and proper; a lesson in politics which he should never forget. The cricketer’s weakness has been that he has never taken politics seriously, because of which many of his opponents also take him lightly. There is no denying that he has followers, but they are not sufficient to help him overcome political combats, especially when he is pitted against a formidable and seasoned champion like Amarinder.
The Captain has a way of getting things done and has never allowed the high command to dictate terms to him beyond a point. In 2016, just ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls in Punjab, he was prepared to take the gamble of entering the electoral arena under the flag of a party proposed by some of his supporters. Sensing that this would hurt the Congress interests immensely, the high command immediately declared him as the Chief Ministerial nominee, giving him a free hand in selecting candidates of his choice in most constituencies.
The Congress triumph was unprecedented; with the party winning 75 out of the 117 seats. The Captain had not only re-established his supremacy in the border state, but went ahead in choosing his ministers. For more than one year till 2018, he did not expand his council of ministers, thus keeping the Central leadership at bay.
Amarinder Singh’s grip over Punjab politics is evident from the fact that many of his followers are urging him to reverse his decision of retiring from politics at the end of his present tenure. Being a master of his own destiny, it is difficult to assume what decision he will be making. The erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala is the undisputed king of Punjab. Between us.