By Harihar Swarup
The Congress, it appears, has a death wish. Otherwise why it should destabilize, the Punjab government, headed by Capt. Amarinder Singh. It is a established norm that the Chief Minister and PCC President should be on same wave length. Why then Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed PCC President without the knowledge of the CM; not only that Amarinder Singh was not even consulted.
The CM and PCC President should function in close co-ordination with each other; more so when elections are few months away as in Punjab. It is known that Amarinder and Sidhu virtually hate other. On his part, Sidhu started functioning against CM from the day he took over charge as PCC chief. Amarinder was humiliated day after day. He ultimately resigned creating first class crisis and reducing prospects of the Congress in the coming elections.
In a virtual revolt against Congress leadership’s decision to prop up Sidhu as the face of the party in 2022 elections, former CM declared he would put a strong candidate against his bête noir to ensure his defeat in the polls.
Amarinder had offered to quit during his talks with Sonia Gandhi but She asked him to continue. “If she had just called me and asked me to step down. I would have”, he said. The former CM also took exception to the Congress party legislature party meeting being convened “in a secretive manner” without taking him into confidence.
Describing Gandhi siblings, Rahul and Priyanka, as inexperienced, he said, their advisers are clearly misguiding them. “They are like my children”. The consequences are clear; the congress may find it difficult to pull through the coming elections and may even loose. The Congress victory, which appeared certain few weeks ago, has now become very bleak; so much so that the party may loosing a winning state.
It is not only Punjab but in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress returned to power after decades, ego clash between Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was equally responsible for the party’s success, resulted in disaster. A claimant for the PCC President’s post, Scindia was so humiliated by CM and Digvijaya Singh, former CM and MP that he quit the Congress with his followers. The result was collapse of the Congress government and return of the BJP government headed by Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
Scindia quit the Congress, joined the BJP, elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya and is now a minister in Narendra Modi’s government.
In Rajasthan bickering between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot came in open soon after election. Pilot resigned from Gehlot government and as PCC President. The revolt was somehow tied over and Gehlot continued to be CM. Discontent is still simmering but it may not damage the Gehlot government, as of now.
There were voices of revolt against Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh but, contained. One has to watch the situation with fingers crossed.
Coming to Punjab by making it untenable for captain Amarinder Singh to continue as Punjab’s chief minister, and now picking Charanjeet Singh Channi as the next CM , the Congress leadership appears to believe it has warded off anti-incumbency, ended the internal factional battle between Amarinder and state party president Sidhu and strengthened the party in the run up to the 2022 polls. Appointing Channi, a dalit leader as CM is indeed a smart political symbolism—he will be first Dalit CM in a state with 31 % Dalits. But this does not take away from the congress’s poor management of the Punjab crisis, which has potentially jeopardized its electoral prospects and enhanced the trust deficit between senior party leaders and the-Gandhi family nationally.
Amarinder Singh led the party to win in Punjab in 2017 polls. He is also a rare national figure in the party who is respected for his military services, politics of moderation and personal temperament. It is indeed true that his popularity had dipped in recent years and this needed correction but working with the CM rather than against him would have been far more productive. After all, the Congress has lived with CMs with a less than impressive track record and allowed them the opportunity to test their credentials in election but the fact that the leadership did not do so stems from Captain being far more autonomous than the party leadership in Delhi, (particularly Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi ) was comfortable with. Instead, the encouragement to Sidhu, a recent recruit to the party who was openly undermining the party leader; his elevation as party president; and possible signals to party legislators against Amarinder Singh, contributed to undermining the CM authority.
As the BJP showed in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Gujarat, It has the ability to change CMs without a major backlash due to Narendra Modi’s authority and a culture of organizational discipline. The Congress is attempting to replicate the same pattern of control except that its party leadership does not carry the same credibility, given its depleted ability to win votes. Amarinder Singh sensed hurt and fierce criticism of Delhi and Sidhu will cost the Congress in terms of both optics and votes in Punjab. It will also lead to deeper unease among other senior leaders about the direction of the party and Channi’s elevation could well sow the seeds of a new proper conflict for leadership in the state unit instead of resolving a crisis. (IPA Service)