Problems for the Congress seem to be unending and one after the other it continues to experience huge setbacks which would certainly impact its future both nationally and in some states. What is happening in Punjab for instance should be a cause of immense worry and coming close on the heels of the Chintan Shivir in Udaipur, it could have wide ranging ramifications.
Although the decision of former Punjab State chief, Sunil Jakhar to quit the party for supposedly greener pastures in the BJP may not be such a big jolt, yet whenever anyone leaves an organization, it does demoralize the common workers.
Jakhar was cut up with the high command for serving a disciplinary notice to him for what was described as his anti-Congress activity while the Assembly elections were on. Despite being the Campaign Committee Chief, he continued to have pot shots at certain senior leaders, Ambika Soni, in particular, and also tried to undermine the role of the then CM, Charanjit Singh Channi.
This was least expected of Jakhar, who has been the Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly as well as the president of the state unit and was considered extremely close to Captain Amarinder Singh. His grouse was that after the Captain was asked to put in his papers, he was likely to succeed him but when Ambika Soni stated that only a Sikh should be the CM of Punjab, his chances ended.
He had accused the Congress of deviating from its core ideology which considered everyone to be equal and did not discriminate between any religion. Incidentally, after the re-organisation of Punjab in 1966, no Hindu has been the CM of the state, something which he seemed to forget. Ambika Soni’s logic was that Punjab is the only state where a Sikh, since it is a majority community there, could be the CM.
There are certain other dimensions to his leaving the Congress and joining the BJP. His bête noire, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi had left the Congress prior to the Assembly polls to contest the elections from Ferozepur on the lotus symbol. Rana Sodhi lost and now faces the prospects of once again running into Jakhar, who belongs to the same area and could be put up by the saffron brigade as its candidate from Ferozepur for the Lok Sabha elections. Rana Sodhi is considered close to Amit Shah while Jakhar has been welcomed into the party fold by J.P. Nadda.
Another setback for the Congress in Punjab is the Supreme Court order sentencing former president, Navjot Singh Sidhu to one-year rigorous imprisonment in a road rage case of many years ago. The former cricketer has surrendered and it is evident that for the time being his political career is over.
Sidhu had been in the forefront of the campaign to oust Amarinder Singh along with the Majha brigade comprising Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Tript Bajwa amongst others. Later he also launched several scathing attacks both on the Congress leadership and Charanjit Singh Channi after he was unable to become the Chief Minister.
In fact, both Sidhu and Jakhar damaged the Congress more than its opponents in the Assembly polls and if the people decided to opt for the Aam Aadmi Party, it was also because of the bitter infighting within the Congress camp. The high command was unable to discipline the leaders while the campaign was on and this hurt the party beyond any other factor. The Congress is now occupying the Opposition benches hoping that Partap Singh Bajwa, its leader in the CLP, would help in resuscitating it.
Sidhu has always been a maverick politician who started his career with the BJP and after having a bitter parting with his erstwhile friends, first shunned the AAP and later joined the Congress which his family had been associated with for a number of years. His visit to Pakistan where he was shown embracing the Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, sent out wrong signals within India and his rivals mocked him for his friendship with both Imran Khan and others in the Pakistan establishment.
In hindsight what has cost the Congress the state of Punjab is also its decision to remove Captain Amarinder Singh, who is certainly amongst the tallest leaders of the state. But there seemed to be no option since the perception was that he was close to the Akalis and the BJP, something which was unacceptable.
The manner in which he was asked to go, angered him and this humiliation became the motivating force for him to once again throw his hat in the electoral arena, which he had promised to leave in 2017. Amarinder Singh also lost the elections from his family bastion of Patiala but has decided to remain in active politics where he wants to help the BJP to consolidate its position in the name of national security.
The Captain has been frequently visiting the national capital and has also apparently set up an office in the Defence Colony area. Speculation is that the BJP may nominate him to the Rajya Sabha and later include him in the Cabinet to help in its 2024 Parliamentary campaign in Punjab. The Captain can still be a formidable player.
So far as the Congress goes, it should ensure that the aftershocks of Punjab do not damage its prospects in Himachal Pradesh where polls are to be held later this year. Between us.