By appointing political consultant Prashant Kishor as his principal adviser with a Cabinet rank, Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has surprised many within the Congress fold. The declaration comes close on the heels of a unilateral announcement by state party chief, Sunil Jakhar, that the 2022 Assembly polls would be fought under the overall leadership of the Captain.
Jakhar’s statement was uncalled for, since in every election, it is the incumbent CM, who spearheads the campaign and no political party would take the risk of naming somebody else unless the CM steps down voluntarily. In the current case, Amarinder had indeed in 2017 stated that this would be his last election and in his fourth year, he would help his party’s high command in selecting his successor.
A lot of water has since flown in the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, and by virtue of a combination of political circumstances, the Captain is the unquestioned leader of the state and thus is bound to lead his party into the next polls. He is not only the safest bet at this stage, with both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party being on opposite sides, but with negligible challenge from within.
However, Prashant Kishor’s induction is being viewed in multiple ways by analysts in Punjab. There is a section which believes that the political consultant was recommended by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the Chief Minister conceded her request, since he wanted to counter Harish Rawat, the AICC general secretary in-charge of the state, who has been wanting to rehabilitate Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Incidentally, Sidhu is also considered close to Priyanka and Rahul and after the recent developments has started making satirical comments on social media. For instance, he recently said, that in any battle where the King’s life is not in danger, then it is not a battle but plain politics. This was a direct dig at the CM which the Captain chose to ignore.
There is speculation in the Congress, that Sidhu was getting frustrated over the delay, which is primarily because he wants to head the Pradesh Congress, which the CM would not allow. It is being said that if his patience runs out, Sidhu may quit the Congress and sit along with the agitating farmers on the Singhu border, thereby identifying himself fully with the peasants’ demands.
If he does so, the media attention would propel him to the centre-stage of state politics, where he already has a following, particularly after the Kartarpur Saheb corridor was opened to pilgrims. His supporters are convinced that had it not been for Sidhu, the Corridor would have remained closed.
Thus, Sidhu outside the Congress could create a lot of problems for the organization and more so if he decides to float his own regional outfit or crosses over to the AAP, which had turned down his ambition of being projected as the AAP’s Chief Ministerial face in 2017.
Sidhu’s popularity had made Arvind Kejriwal nervous since he wanted to himself become the CM of Punjab, having promised Manish Sisodia, his deputy, that the reins to run the capital would be handed over to him. Secondly, Sidhu’s overbearing personality also made Kejriwal insecure and he perhaps thought that he (Sidhu) could overshadow him in the AAP’s internal politics. In the process, the AAP, which could have swept the Punjab polls in 2017, not only lost the plot, but allowed Congress, which it wanted to replace, to return to power after a decade.
The Captain capitalized on the situation and led Congress to an unprecedented victory, which he could replicate, if the high command allows him a free hand in next year’s electoral battle. It is also equally important for him to ensure that the former Indian cricketer does not get a chance to hit boundaries and remains in the team under his overall command.
Amarinder’s relationship with the Congress central leadership has been, by and large, cordial, even though he likes to take his own decisions and sticks by his own calculations. He has conveyed to the high command that he was not happy with any attempts at imposition by Rawat, who being a very experienced player, is watching things unfold with utmost patience. Rawat chose to downplay Jakhar’s unilateral announcement, since any strong reaction would have led to an ugly situation. Jakhar sees himself as a possible CM of the state at some stage, as do others such as Manpreet Singh Badal, Pratap Singh Bajwa and Sidhu.
It is in this backdrop that Prashant Kishor, who also enjoys a good rapport with the Chief Minister’s grandson, has stepped into the Punjab arena. His appointment in political circles is also being interpreted as an admission by the CM that all his advisers who have assisted him in the last four years were not up to the mark and necessitated the need to bring in the highly rated consultant, who is also counselling Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin, Jaganmohan Reddy, after being with Nitish Kumar and the Congress besides the BJP in the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
On his part, Prashant is confident of turning the tables on his opponents but the question that continues to arise is that should political parties not have someone from within their own organisations to guide them in strategic matters? Should outsiders play such pivotal roles?
Presuming Prashant is the best in the business, he would be required to prove his credentials after every election. Between us.