The Congress high command is unable to take a call on Punjab, where heightened dissident activity fuelled by uncertainty that surrounds next year’s Assembly polls, has cast a shadow over Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s stewardship. However, the Central leadership’s dilemma is that if it decides to replace the CM, eight months before the polls, who will spearhead the campaign.
The Punjab situation has been misread by most observers as it is not a tussle between the Captain and Navjot Singh Sidhu as is being made out, but a power struggle to firm up a succession plan. Sidhu or for that matter no other Punjab leader measures up to Amarinder’s stature, but what is happening is that the high command has reached a wrong diagnosis which prevents it from offering the correct prescription.
The issue in Punjab is that the MLAs have been talking in two voices; in Chandigarh, they give an impression of being loyal to the CM, but in Delhi, they present a very disgruntled picture. This is partly true that the Chief Minister because of his inaccessibility is to blame for some of the problems. However, the Pradesh Congress Committee leadership, has also failed to make amends.
The real worry of most MLAs and Punjab party leaders is that the Captain had sworn by the holy scriptures that he would bring to book those responsible for the sacrilege incidents in 2015 and also take action against those who ordered police firing. In addition, there is concern why the CM despite promising action against those encouraging narcotics trade in the state, has allowed the prime suspects to go scot-free till now. The ongoing farmers agitation is also going to figure prominently in the election agenda next year and could change the course of politics.
The sacrilege matter and the drugs angle would be the primary issues that would form a part of the political narrative for the Assembly elections. These were the subjects on which the Congress came to power in 2017 and these could boomerang on the grand old party, if further action against the suspects is postponed any further.
The three-member committee appointed by the high command comprising Mallikarjun Kharge, Harish Rawat and Jai Prakash Aggarwal have met the MLAs over the past few days and also had detailed discussions with the Captain in New Delhi on Friday to ascertain the problems that are impacting the party.
Majority of MLAs including Sidhu presented their views while the Captain gave a spirited defence of his tenure and appeared to have left the committee members overawed. Essentially the decision has to be finally made by Rahul Gandhi but there were a large number of MLAs who questioned the functioning of the PCC Chief, Sunil Jakhar, accusing him of not taking his job seriously.
Punjab is a border state with a lot of complexities and the Central leadership has to take an appropriate decision keeping in mind the Sikh sentiments as well as those of the masses. The difficulty is that if it decides to change the CM, it would be impossible for his successor to be accountable for the four and half years of Amarinder’s tenure. And if Amarinder continues, the sacrilege and drugs issues would affect the prospects of the party.
There are not too many options left for the high command as patchwork redressal would not work unless the CM gives an assurance of acting on his promises within a month. The Gandhis should also stop giving false hopes to Sidhu, who maybe immensely popular amongst the masses, but has to comprehend how the Congress functions and not be in a tearing hurry to get any plum position.
The former cricketer must understand that he should not aspire for the moon when there are many leaders, much senior to him in the party who are also in the queue. He should by grateful for what he gets instead of taking public digs at the CM, who is the primary choice of the high command in Punjab and is in that capacity serving the state.
There have been several suggestions that have been offered to the Gandhis, but the one that is likely to work is to first of all appoint a fairly senior person as the PCC Chief, who has a close connect with both the Captain as well as the high command. This appointed person’s effort should be to unite the party besides making sure that the CM is also kept in check if he oversteps.
The Khatris constitute 32% of Punjab electorate and their representative such as Rana Gurmit Sodhi could be considered for the PCC chief, while Sidhu and two others could be accommodated in the Cabinet as Deputy Chief Ministers. If Sidhu has to be given something additional, he could he made the campaign committee convener for the polls. And if the high command decides to appoint a Jat Sikh, Pratap Singh Bajwa becomes the obvious choice since like Sidhu, Manpreet Badal is a new entrant in the party. Vijay Inder Singla, whose name also figures amongst the probables, is too junior for the job and cannot in any manner help in strengthening the organization at this stage.
The three-member committee must look at the real picture and not give its report to please anyone in the high command. On his part, the Captain has to keep his word while acting in the best interest of the party. Between us.