The Sardar versus Sardar battle in Punjab has thrown up an extremely uncertain political scenario, which indicates that the Congress is fast losing ground in the state, where it reigned supreme for four and a half years.
Constant attacks on the Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh by the newly appointed Pradesh president, Navjot Singh Sidhu and his supporters, evoked a sarcastic comment from the Aam Aadmi Party spokesman, Raghav Chadha, that the former cricketer should stop playing the Leader of Opposition against his own government and instead implement the promises made in the Congress manifesto.
There is also speculation that Punjab could head for President’s Rule, given the security concerns raised during his meetings with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah by the CM, whose position in his own party has become vulnerable. In fact, Malvinder Singh Malli, appointed by Sidhu as his adviser, indicated the possibility by claiming that the CM and the Centre were attempting to create communal tension in the state.
Malli, like two other advisers, also declared by Sidhu, has had little to do with the Congress as such, having been associated for a long time with former SGPC chief, Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Lately, he has been gunning for the Captain. Mohammad Mustafa, former DGP and husband of Cabinet Minister Razia Sultan, who was also nominated as an adviser, has quit, while Pyare Lal Garg, former registrar of Baba Farid University is a known comrade. Only Amar Singh amongst the advisers is a Congress MP from Fatehgarh Saheb and the erstwhile bureaucrat was at one stage considered close to former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, while serving in various positions in that state.
Mustafa’s resignation did not surprise anyone, since the retired police officer was able to anticipate a stiff opposition from the hard-core religious elements, who could have accused him of eliminating Sikhs during his long tenure in the police in the same manner in which they had been targeting Sumedh Singh Saini, the DGP during the Badal dispensation. Thus, Mustafa has got out from the line of fire knowing fully well that the Akalis had also faced acute criticism when they nominated the wife of the late police officer, Izhar Alam for the Assembly polls. Alam was viewed as the killer of Sikhs during the K.P.S. Gill era.
What has transpired in Punjab is indeed baffling, with the Chief Minister being repeatedly snubbed or humiliated by the Congress high command. During his one-hour long meeting with Sonia Gandhi, earlier in the week, the Captain did not get a free pass to reshuffle his Cabinet. It is being said that the CM is not happy with the role of Harish Rawat, the general secretary in charge of the state and has been seeking his removal. However, Sonia Gandhi sent a strong signal to him by also asking Rawat to be present when Amarinder Singh met her.
Although what transpired inside is not fully known, but Rawat’s briefing to the press that both the CM and Sidhu should work together in the interest of the Congress, appears to have conveyed what was needed to be stated in a subtle language. However, the Captain’s meeting with the Prime Minister and Home Minister sent out a message, which has been differently interpreted in party circles.
On returning to Chandigarh, Amarinder has convened a Cabinet meeting on 16 August; the Cabinet has not met for more than two months and in the election year, it could see some dissensions within the ranks. The Majha lobby, like many of his ardent supporters, has distanced themselves from the Chief Minister, whose position has become weaker, but being a soldier, he has decided to fight on till the end. There has also been talk of appointing Deputy Chief Ministers, which seems unlikely after Sidhu has been made the Pradesh boss.
On his part, the cricketer seems to be impatient and has made certain announcements which are beyond comprehension. For instance, he has stated that the Cabinet decisions regarding the power agreements could be reviewed in the Assembly, something which cannot be done. He has been talking about providing power at Rs 3 per unit, making even his followers comment that if he had such a prescription, why he was not sharing it with his own government.
A lot of eyebrows were raised in AICC circles also when Sidhu announced his team of advisers, which provided an impression that he was virtually making the four working presidents nominated by the high command as totally ineffective. In any case, the working presidents lack the stature or gravitas to make any impact in the fast-changing politics of the state.
If there is speculation regarding the Captain’s proximity to the Centre, there is equally also nervousness in party circles that Sidhu could jump ship at the eleventh hour and leave the Congress in lurch. The reason is that he does not understand the Congress culture and is ignorant about organizational responsibilities.
The key to success in the Assembly polls lies with the farmers and two Congress leaders, Partap Bajwa and Deependra Hooda along with Jayant Chaudhury took the lead during the monsoon session by showing solidarity and later took Rahul Gandhi for the tractor protest.
The Captain realizes that he may not get another chance as the CM, while Sidhu is doing everything possible to rock the boat. The Congress is in a political quagmire in Punjab. Between us.