With little over two hours left for Punjab elections 2022 campaigning on Friday, the Congress put up a united front with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi flanked by Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and senior leader Sunil Jakhar.
Their smiles attempted to mask the disunity among them that was on display at the state Congress headquarters in Chandigarh. The original plan was to end the Punjab campaign with a joint rally with Channi and Sidhu in Chamkaur Sahib, the constituency of the former.
Sources told News18 that Sidhu kept Channi and his team waiting, and the CM had to eventually campaign with popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosa along with Malvika Sood, the Moga candidate and actor Sonu Sood’s sister.
At his office in Chandigarh, meanwhile, Sidhu was huddled in meetings with senior Congress leaders, giving finishing touches to the event to launch the party manifesto. But the Punjab Congress chief did not let go of his chance to complain that he was waiting for the CM to arrive for over three hours and he could have instead gone to Amritsar East, his constituency, for some last-minute campaigning.
In yet another sign of factions widening, just hours before the Congress was to release its manifesto, Sidhu released his own vision document for Amritsar East, telling reporters, “Both Badals and Captain Amrinder Singh are the same. If you want development, the man who can deliver it is sitting in front of you.”
Sources said some of the leaders seated there tried to calm him down. Eventually Channi came in and offered a red rose to Sidhu, who smiled and said, “See, this is what I get from him.” He handed the flower over to an aide.
Channi released the manifesto but excused himself to leave for campaigning while Sidhu was left to complete the press conference and eventually reached home in Amritsar at 6:30pm by which time campaigning was over.
Behind this sequence of events on Friday evening is a story that began six months ago when the Congress was confident of a win. But as Captain Amarinder Singh was replaced as CM and eventually quit the party, new leaders came up and brought many fissures to the fore.
The Congress campaign never seemed to take off as there was little or no team effort. For instance, Pratap Bajwa campaigned only in his constituency Qadian, while Channi and Sidhu only had one joint campaign and that too because Priyanka Gandhi Vadra insisted on it.
Sidhu complained that he had been “left alone” by his party and that there were attempts to ensure he loses, following which Ravneet Bittu, the Ludhiana MP, was packed off to campaign for him.
Ambika Soni, who hails from Punjab and played a key role in the ouster of Amarinder Singh, did not turn up to campaign. To top it all, campaign committee chief Sunil Jakhar announced in the midst of Punjab polls that he is quitting active politics while remaining with the Congress.
It would be pertinent to recall Sonia Gandhi’s musings in 2004 at this time – “We often lose not because we are defeated by our opponents. We lose because we defeat ourselves.” Words that will ring true if the Congress loses Punjab.
With inputs from News18