The Centre’s insistence on pushing through the Farm Bills in Parliament, has ignited politics in Punjab, even though the Assembly elections are 18 months away. Aware of the consequences, the Bills can have, if seriously implemented, both the Congress and the Akalis have stepped up their attack on each other. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, till recently the Food Processing Minister in the NDA government, has lashed out at Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, accusing him of doublespeak, while facilitating a U-turn of her own party, on the contentious issue.
Her resignation was necessitated by the strong opposition to the Centre’s initiatives in the farming sector, and had she continued in the government, the Akalis would have found it very difficult to reach out to the common people in remote areas of the state, which, over the years, has acquired the most prominent place in the agriculture sector.
The politics over the bills would have its share of repercussions in neighbouring Haryana, which like Punjab relies heavily on the Mandi system for crop procurement. This has also put BJP’s ally, Dushyant Chautala and his party in a tight spot. In Punjab, the proposed reforms would heavily impact the BJP, whose principal supporters play the most pivotal role in the procurement process. The economy of several sectors is inter-linked to procurement and thus would be badly affected, thereby creating its own share of problems for the saffron party.
Captain Amarinder Singh has spoken out against the policy in the strongest terms and would not allow this opportunity that has come his way to slip away, especially when the Congress high command appeared unhappy over the complaints it had been receiving against his style of functioning. The Chief Minister is an astute and perceptive politician, who is aware that despite his tall stature there would be an attempt to replace him in the last one year of his term.
In fact, the Akalis’ attack on him has forced even his critics to defend the Congress, given that it was the only option available to them for their own as well as the party’s survival in the state. Nevertheless, it has activated various players who are looking at politics in the post-Prakash Singh Badal and Amarinder era. The irrepressible Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had been lying low for nearly two years, has made a comeback on social media in the past two days.
Prior to that, both Pratap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo, two former Punjab PCC presidents, had been critical of the Captain, but now seem to be defending him, following the anticipated confrontation with the Akalis.
There are several sub-plots that are playing out in the Congress regarding Punjab. The appointment of Harish Rawat, a seasoned politician as the general secretary in charge of the state, in place of a pliable Asha Kumari, has come as a development that should be seen in the context of the high command’s plans. Rawat is visiting Punjab over the next two days, and since taking over, has been making his own assessment of the politics there, by individually interacting with Congress MPs and some MLAs.
Realising that Rawat had been hand-picked for the assignment by Rahul Gandhi, the Captain, who had not visited New Delhi for several months, earlier in the week, made an unexpected trip to the capital for a couple of hours, to call on the general secretary. A lot of significance is being attached to the meeting, as it implies that for the Chief Minister to have his way in the future, he would have to abide by the directives of the central leadership. The attempt to draft in Prashant Kishor, once again for the forthcoming electoral battle, has not gone too well with the senior functionaries of the party.
Rahul has apparently been briefed about the major points of the 2017 election, prior to which Amarinder had declared that this would be his last polls before his retirement. He had also stated that in the last one year of his term, he along with the high command, would name his successor, under whose leadership the next Assembly elections would be contested. However, since then, the Chief Minister’s supporters have been persuading him to continue for the next term as well. The Captain alone would be the one who would take a final call on this matter. There is speculation that he may like to prop up his son, Raninder Singh, given that he has been active in the Malwa region for the past couple of months.
The party leadership in Delhi has been keen to promote Sidhu, who evidently does not get along well with the CM, and hence had resigned from the state Cabinet. There was a proposal to designate him as the Deputy CM, in view of his immense popularity, but sensing that such an appointment would dilute his own standing, the Captain rejected it outright. The argument was that how could two Jat Sikhs occupy the two top positions. This was contrary to the situation when two Jat Sikhs, Pratap Singh Kairon was the CM and Darbara Singh, the PCC president. Other than Sidhu, Bajwa and PCC Chief, Sunil Jakhar, Finance Minister Manpreet Badal is also seen as a future player.
Even though politics has erupted, the alignment season has not commenced. The Akalis and the BJP could part ways, providing the Congress with an advantage. Uncertain times have arrived. Between us.