The nearly half an hour meeting that former swashbuckling Indian opener and cricket star, Navjot Singh Sidhu had with interim Congress president, Sonia Gandhi in the national capital has resulted in speculation regarding his future role. Sidhu was accompanied by party general secretary, Harish Rawat, who had been earlier sent to Punjab in place of Asha Kumari, to somehow get him accommodated as either the state party chief or as a member of Captain Amarinder Singh’s Cabinet.
It is evident that the Chief Minister has strong reservations on the issue and the Congress high command realizes that any attempt to foist the stormy petrel of Punjab politics in a key position without the Captain’s consent, could boomerang. There is no doubt that Sidhu is immensely popular amongst the Sikh masses and is often given credit for the opening of the Kartarpur Saheb corridor. However, Amarinder Singh remains the undisputed leader of the state and would never allow his own position to be undermined in any manner.
It is well known that Sidhu is reluctant to join the ministry unless he is designated as the Deputy Chief Minister and is angling for a party position since he knows that it is only by being in the organization, that he can play a stellar role during next year’s Assembly elections. This proposal, if pushed through, could also rub the wrong way many other leaders, who view themselves as probable successors to the Captain when he decides to call it a day.
It is obvious that even though Amarinder had declared in 2017 that it was going to be his last election, yet it is most unlikely that he would not be an active participant in 2022. He has tremendous goodwill and when Punjab is passing through a very difficult phase in the wake of the farmer’s agitation, he alone has the wherewithal to steer the state. He has warned the BJP that if the farmers’ agitation was not appropriately handled and the farm laws were not repealed, it could be that party’s death knell.
On the ground, the BJP is facing the heat and many of its leaders have taken off their party flags from their rooftops. In the ongoing civic elections, the BJP nominees are being ridiculed and also manhandled. This is not a good sign, but indicates deep-seated resentment against the current Central government.
Sidhu’s return to the BJP at one point looked to be a possibility. However, after the agitation picked up momentum, no state leader can dare to defy the people’s sentiments. The Congress high command was keen to pacify Sidhu since he had been given certain assurances that had not been honoured, and the apprehension was that he may make his way towards AAP or may toy with the idea of forming his own outfit.
Amarinder’s position has been strengthened after the Centre’s crackdown on the peasants, and after the Shiromani Akali Dal faced the heat and decided to step out of the NDA government. The Centre has been trying to rope in the Chief Minister to defuse the situation, but political pundits believe that if he is seen in any manner as assisting the Union government, his elevated status may take no time in getting diminished. Thus, he has to do tightrope walking while consolidating his own position.
The farmers’ protests have united the people of Punjab and Haryana. So far, no political party has been able to gain any political advantage from this agitation. The Congress, which could have, is totally confused, with Rahul Gandhi making irresponsible statements every now and then. Both Amarinder Singh and former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who are admired in their respective states, have kept a safe distance from the stir, which has badly singed the BJP.
The Congress high command is also reluctant to utilize their services, for whatever reason. There are several veteran Congressmen who feel that at this critical stage, the party should have risen to the occasion and roped in top leaders to strategise to recover lost ground and rebuild the party. The current leadership is only keen on promoting Rahul, and has no blueprint for revival of the Congress.
After Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she had constituted a five-member group to assess political developments and provide her inputs to enable her to take correct decisions. This core group with Pranab Mukherjee as the convener had P.V. Narasimha Rao, R. Venkataraman, N.D. Tewari and Makhan Lal Fotedar. They were all accomplished and perceptive political players who understood both the nuances and the situation as it existed at the grassroots.
There are many astute leaders even in the current party, whose services are not being adequately utilized. Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, former Madhya Pradesh CM, Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad are familiar with the political moves and counter moves.
The indifference or deliberate effort to prevent leaders from asserting themselves is only detrimental to the interests of the Congress. What the Congress needs today is both an inclusive and accessible leadership. There has to be a mechanism to take stock of day-to-day situations, rather than taking decisions on the whims and fancies of either of the Gandhis.
The Sidhu issue could also have been addressed much earlier but was allowed to persist deliberately. The Congress leadership has to understand clearly that it would be a big mistake to ruffle the Captain’s feathers. Between us.