Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh
At 75, Capt Amarinder Singh is enjoying every bit of his stint as Punjab Chief Minister. He has silenced almost all his detractors and proved beyond doubt that the 2017 election win was largely because of him alone and not his party. This done, he is playing the game of politics like he did never before.
Soon after taking over the reins of the government, the Maharaja of Patiala carefully chose his team of officers as well as key advisers, and right in the beginning, he sought to send a message to one and all, especially his party colleagues that he would like the rule of law to prevail in Punjab. Some of his decisions may have come as a rude shock to the legislators who had been waiting for their turn after witnessing how the Akali MLAs wielded authority and power during the 10 years of the Badal regime. But after the initial disappointment, most of them have now reconciled to the new dispensation. Contrary to their expectations, there has been no further expansion of the Amarinder Cabinet, no appointment of parliamentary secretaries, even as the party legislators have not been able to bulldoze the system as the politicians could previously do.
Capt Amarinder’s other deft move was to get Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar the Lok Sabha ticket from Gurdaspur, a stronghold of Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa. By ensuring his resounding victory in the recent by-election, he has stumped his bête noire Bajwa. Political circles have been agog with talks that Bajwa and Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu — one of the hopefuls for the top post — have been making efforts to corner Capt Amarinder on the issue of “going soft” on the Badals and not taking action against former Akali minister and Sukhbir Singh Badal’s brother-in-law, Bikramjit Singh Majithia. The CM, however, has not blinked even once despite the pressure tactics.
Many of his party leaders, who had been basing their claim to proceed against Majithia on the basis of news reports published by a prominent newspaper, have been flummoxed after the same newspaper published an apology on its front page. This deflated their arguments that the new Government should have acted against the former Akali minister in the drugs case. The timing of the apology could not have been better as the CM had remarked only a couple of days back that he would like to act against Majithia but could not do so without evidence.
The Captain does what he believes in. People in Punjab often like to compare his style of functioning with that of Sukhbir, if not the class; but some of his latest political moves can best be compared with that of Parkash Singh Badal.
Capt Amarinder’s fresh salvo that he’s ready for a longer innings in politics “for the sake of Punjab” has further shaken the confidence of all those leaders who had been nursing an ambition to make it to the Chief Minister’s post. Like other politicians, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Manpreet Singh Badal may be keen to win the confidence of their fellow legislators and “gain politically”. But it will take some time for the aspirants to come to terms with the fact that the Captain is fit and prepared to play a longer innings in politics, and is even capable of playing the games through the badminton court.
Wiser by the mistakes of the past, Capt Amarinder has covered a lot of ground, while his stature and mass appeal have enabled him to get the better of political odds, and regain control over the party. Today, Capt Amarinder continues to be the rallying point for his party men, which makes his detractors shrink into a tactical shell, willing to strike, but scared of annoying him.
Watching the political developments in Punjab for over past 15 years, one knows that the Maharaja has survived many onslaughts, including those from Rahul Gandhi’s Congress and its high command culture which did not allow him to settle down for years. In the second term, it has been smooth sailing for the Captain on the political turf so far. But as CM, he faces the challenge of bringing the State’s sagging economy back on track, accelerating development works as in the past, providing leadership to a ‘divided’ bureaucracy and fulfilling his poll promises. The bigger challenge for him this time is — how he finds a political solution to bureaucratic problems!