At this stage of his political career, Capt Amarinder has hardly anything to lose. Sidhu who resigned from BJP, chose not to join AAP ahead of 2017 polls and rather joined the Congress after “some assurances” from the High Command, appears to be racing against time.
Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh
Punjab’s Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu seems to have upped the ante against Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and has been directly or indirectly questioning his leadership and supremacy. The CM has remained unfazed in the past two years of his rule, but for the first time got ruffled during the Lok Sabha elections, openly admitting that Sidhu wants to replace him as the Chief Minister. He even hinted at changing the portfolio of Local Bodies Minister Navjot Sidhu to ensure that development projects in the state are effectively implemented.
Capt Amarinder likes to rule on his own terms and at this stage of his political career, he has hardly anything to lose. On the other hand, Sidhu who resigned from the BJP, chose not to join the AAP in the run up to the 2017 Assembly polls in Punjab and rather joined the Congress after “some assurances” from the High Command, seems to be racing against time, pushing hard to see off the Captain of the Congress ship at the earliest.
So far, he has failed to move Capt Amarinder even by an inch. The CM still continues to be “very popular” among the masses and enjoy their confidence despite this being the third year of his government. There is also a growing perception that Congress president Rahul Gandhi may not be “comfortable” with the Captain and his style of functioning. However at this stage, he hardly has any choice but to carry on with the “Maharaja of Patiala”.
The reason is simple. In the past over two years, not just once but twice, Capt Amarinder was able to hold his fort against the Modi wave both during the Assembly as well as Lok Sabha polls. Firmly ensconced in the saddle since his victory in the 2017 Assembly polls, the Maharaja continues to be a force to reckon and a rallying point for party leaders, making his detractors shrink into a tactical shell. Only some like Sidhu and a few in the party high command are willing to strike, but have failed to hurt him. In Punjab, apart from Sidhu, no other politician has tried to cross his path. Sidhu has continued with his tirade against Capt Amarinder but every time has had to eat humble pie.
Capt Amarinder has seen such situations many times in the past, has learnt his political lessons the hard way, matured and has come of age. By now, he not only marginalised his detractors such as Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Partap Singh Bajwa but even managed to checkmate the Badals.
Political pundits feel even his statement during a rally in Gurdaspur — “You will see Sunil Jakhar as the CM of Punjab one day” – was a “loaded” one. They say the Congress is a party where if you push too hard, you only go backwards.
Despite getting rebuffed in the past for making statements against Capt Amarinder, Sidhu has been relentless in his endeavour to unsettle the CM. However, nothing seems to have worked in his favour. Every time he tries to attack Capt Amarinder, his “loyalist” Cabinet ministers join hands to push Sidhu back.
For many years till Capt Amarinder was again given the charge of the party in 2016, the Punjab unit was in complete disarray where fault-finding had become the full-time occupation of most state leaders. In fact, the blame rests more on the ingrained and inbred high command culture, and less on ever-sparring leaders in the state. Instead of allowing regional saplings to grow into satraps, the culture compels the high command to checkmate important regional leaders and chain them. And the results have been there for all to see.
For decades, no Congress leader in any state has been allowed to grow and emerge stronger. As a result, big states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the Congress reigned and ruled for decades at a stretch, and had a strong base and cadre, have slipped out of the party’s hands. Day-to-day interference from Delhi in the functioning of regional leaders, and management of party affairs did the party in. Now, the party has almost lost base in several Hindi speaking states where the BJP has routed the Congress.
Sidhu may continue with his tirade against Capt Amarinder’s leadership in Punjab, the party high command with its dismal performance in the last Lok Sabha polls may not be in a position to unsettle the Captain. The situation is such that neither Sidhu nor Capt Amarinder will be able to get rid of each other; rather at best, the high command would only like to do is the “balancing act”. This means that the CM may not find it easy to change Sidhu’s portfolio and thus, the Cabinet reshuffle in Punjab may remain on hold. On the other hand, it would be better for “young” Sidhu to focus on his work and wait for his turn.
In its endeavour to keep important regional leaders like Capt Amarinder restrained, the Congress high command has only caused immense damage to the cadre base and its prospects in the country. After the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, it’s time the party did some soul searching and took corrective measures like allowing state leaders to grow and emerge and party units to perform without interference from Delhi. Unless it does so, the Congress cannot regain the electoral glory it basked in until the late 1980’s.