The coup in Punjab Congress was planned and not sudden even though it came as a surprise to many in the state. The churning began around 15 days ago but the decision to replace Captain Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister was taken after an internal survey commissioned by the central leadership showed the party had slim chance of winning if it continued with the Captain as its electoral face.
It reportedly showed that Amarinder would be a constant reminder of the party’s unfulfilled promises. The final push came when rival and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal visited Punjab to announce his party’s poll promise of free power, a sop also promised by the Congress.
While Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi decided enough was enough, a break from Amarinder would have been a tough decision for Sonia Gandhi since the Captain joined the Congress because of her late husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Around a week ago, the party’s Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat was called in by the central leadership and told to get in touch with Punjab MLAs who had written to Sonia Gandhi seeking a Congress Legislature Party meeting. The new round of power tussle became public when Rawat tweeted at midnight that the CLP meeting would be held on Saturday evening.
The going was getting tough for the Captain and his team was well aware of the situation, but they were still reportedly taken by surprise at the short notice of the CLP meet inevitably to discuss leadership change.
Sources said the Captain began reaching out to his old friends in the party, including Kamal Nath. Through Nath, Amarinder Singh relayed a message for Sonia that he could not bear the “suspense and humiliation” any longer and would resign from the party if removed as CM, sources added.
If it comes to pass, this won’t be the Captain’s first exit from the Congress. He had quit the party in the aftermath of the 1984 Operation Bluestar, and joined the Shiromani Akali Dal. He left the Akali Dal in 1992 to float his own party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic), but merged it with the Congress in 1998.
The Punjab Congress has been facing turbulence for months amid the intense rivalry between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu. The central leadership of the Congress was waiting for the right time to effect a change in Punjab and found a safe window when the BJP too replaced three of its CMs. It, however, was hoping for a smooth and democratic transition through the CLP.
With inputs from News18