It is becoming increasingly clear that no political party is likely to declare its Chief Ministerial candidate for the forthcoming Punjab Assembly elections. However, it does not mean that ambitious leaders would stop viewing themselves as potential nominees for the coveted job.
So far as the Congress is concerned, Pradesh party chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu has been consistently demanding that there should be a CM face to lead the campaign. It is evident that he still believes that he could be in the reckoning, without realising that the ground realities are not in his favour, at this juncture.
The dilemma before the Congress high command is that it cannot afford to bypass Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi who without being declared, is being viewed as the face of the party. In other words, if the Congress were to win the polls, it would be extremely difficult to ignore Channi’s claim because of multiple reasons.
Channi is the first Dalit CM of the border state and if he is deprived of his position, it would have ramifications in other states where the Congress is a player. Secondly, after his four months as the head of the state government, Channi has shown that he is no greenhorn but a mature political leader, who understood realpolitik as much as anyone before him.
In fact, Channi has emerged as the principal leader of the next generation in his party and has succeeded in identifying the Congress with the common people who also consider him to be one amongst them. This is because a commoner has taken over the reins of power from a Maharaja, who is now battling both his ego and ambition to remain relevant.
Channi’s arrival on the scene against all expectations does not mean that Sidhu’s contribution in easing out the old dispensation can be discounted in any manner. It was basically Sidhu, who fought a battle against the Captain and succeeded in getting him replaced. He was at one point of time the “X” factor of Punjab politics but his recent utterances and inconsistent political actions, seem to make him look like a “frustrated politician” who was unable to get what he had strived for.
The reality is that he is the recipient of all the ire of the Captain, who is in politics today with a single point programme of getting even with the former cricketer and destroying the party which gave him an opportunity of being the CM for nine and a half years. Therefore, it is not surprising that every word which Sidhu utters, particularly in context of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, gets amplified in order to change the narrative to national security, on the eve of the polls.
Both Channi and Sidhu may be seen pulling in opposite directions, but they have more or less neutralized the challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party, which is in an overdrive to expose the shortcomings of the Congress government.
The main problem with the Aam Aadmi Party is that it has till now failed to project a CM face. Arvind Kejriwal, who basically likes to keep the focus on himself and his achievements, cannot be the CM candidate and he for reasons best known to him is reluctant to project anyone else as of now. From amongst the existing AAP leaders, Bhagwant Mann is the most prominent, but his own party finds him erratic at times.
The reason that is preventing Kejriwal from coming out with a name is that he would never want anyone belonging to his own party to be more prominent than him. This would dilute his national ambitions and also dwarf him in comparison to anyone who has a bigger profile than him nationally. This could be a factor why political veterans suspect that Kejriwal’s game plan is to merely increase his vote share and footprint in various states where his party is contesting without seriously aiming to win the polls outright.
The Shiromani Akali Dal is contesting the polls on the backfoot. However, everyone knows that in the unlikely event the party wins, it would be Sukhbir Singh Badal, who would be the claimant for the position. Significantly, since there is inherent resentment against the Badals in Punjab, the strategy in this regard shall be allowed to remain latent till an appropriate time. The thinking could also be to allow a coalition government to be formed with the CM from a partner in the post poll scenario.
The Punjab Lok Congress and the BJP alliance has so far refrained from naming the Captain as the possible CM candidate. This could be because, most of the Captain’s confidants, after leaving the Congress are joining the BJP, and not his party. It effectively means that his claim on CM-ship would be diminished if his party has less number of seats than the BJP.
The Lok Congress leadership must realise that th.e BJP would want to utilise the Captain to hurt the Congress chances and not to make him their CM face unless post poll equations throw up an uncertain mandate where the Akalis could accept Amarinder even while rejecting the BJP. A V.P. Singh government type of model may emerge where the BJP and CPM extended their support to the Janata Dal from outside to keep the Congress out.
Interestingly, in this quest for winning the Punjab Assembly, the real beneficiary would be Channi, with all known political players, waiting for their moment. Between us.