The Congress seems to have acquired an expertise in hurting its own prospects by either wrong decisions or by delaying their implementation, causing unnecessary resentment amongst party persons, who look towards the high command for overall guidance.
In the latest instance, the central leadership, meaning the Gandhis, first made up their mind to install former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu as the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, overriding resistance from Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Then instead of declaring the appointment, the high command dilly dallied for some time providing scope for all kind of speculation concerning the political players involved in this exercise. The result was that supporters of both the Captain and Sidhu held meetings in Chandigarh in a show of strength, which led to the perception that the party was badly divided in the state on the eve of election.
Knives are out in Punjab and it is going to take some time for truce to be enforced, leaving the game open for the next year’s polls. The only plausible explanation for the delay in the announcement regarding Sidhu was that the high command wanted to placate the Captain, who is without doubt the topmost leader in Punjab today.
After having humiliated him by summoning him to Delhi three times to face the three-member panel, the Gandhis are conscious that it would be very difficult to go into the elections without him as the party’s mascot. It was for this reason that the AICC general secretary in-charge, Harish Rawat visited Chandigarh to acquaint the Chief Minister of the party’s decision before making it public. The Captain had earlier in Delhi stated a few days ago that the high command’s view on the matter would be binding on everyone in the party. Rawat’s visit was an acknowledgement of Amarinder’s immense contribution to the party.
The bottom line of making Sidhu the president is that by choosing him over others, the Congress has virtually named him as the number two leader in the state after Amarinder. The entire battle which had been waging in the party during the past few months was not between Amarinder and Sidhu but for the succession battle which would spell out, “Who after the Captain?”.
It is very evident that by overturning his own decision of 2017 that he would not contest any election again, Amarinder would continue to be the face of the party when it faces a challenge from the Akalis, the AAP and the BJP. If the Congress wins once again, he would be the first choice for Chief Minister, meaning that others in the line including Sidhu would have to wait for some more time. If the Congress fails to win the majority, the party would sit in the Opposition and it would mean that those desirous of replacing the Captain would also have to leave the treasury benches and sit on the other side.
From one perspective, the Captain has not lost in this confrontation. He would have been considered a loser had he been replaced. Changing him at this stage was not on the agenda of the high command though things may have been different had Ahmed Patel been still around to manage the consequences of the change.
The charges brought out against the Chief Minister by his opponents within the party are pointless at this juncture. Amarinder’s style of working in his second term was known to everyone and the high command, if it did not approve of his functioning, should have taken a call, a year ago. But then no one had the courage to take the former soldier on.
So far as Sidhu is concerned, he is the “X” factor in Punjab politics and enjoys immense popularity amongst certain sections. He enjoys an iconic status and could contribute to the success of the Congress. The only drawback is that being a new entrant into the party, he would have to work overtime to acquaint himself with Congressmen in different regions of the state.
He shall also have to be at his best in dealing with bouncers and googlies from his own colleagues who are much more experienced than him in the political arena. His elevation has irked several contenders for the post of the PCC chief, Pratap Singh Bajwa, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Lal Singh amongst them. He shall have to carry the entire party along with him and show himself to be a good team person rather than playing on the front foot and denying others their place.
It is being said that there are two Jat Sikhs at the helm of affairs in Punjab, the Captain and Sidhu. There is nothing extraordinary in this. In undivided Punjab, Pratap Singh Kairon was the CM while Darbara Singh was the PCC president. At the Centre, when P.V. Narasimha Rao took over as the Prime Minister, R. Venkataraman was the President and Shankar Dayal Sharma, the Vice President; all three were Brahmins.
Sidhu’s appointment, to begin with, would be viewed as a political snub to the Captain by many political observers and the CM too may look at it in a similar way. But Amarinder is a veteran and has seen several battles, both on the war front and in the political sphere. For him the priority was to survive the crisis that was created by the high command’s desire to bring in Sidhu. He can very well manage things now. Between us.