Sunday, 19 September 2021 | Amitabh Shukla | Chandigarh
Cong’s last-ditch effort to negate anti-incumbency; Amarinder to ‘explore options’
Less than six months before the Assembly polls in the State, Congress changed Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh conceding that it was the best political alternative to dent the growing anti-incumbency against the two-time Chief Minister.
It was clear that the political script written by the Congress high command was unpalatable to the Punjab Chief Minister who submitted his resignation to Governor Banwarilal Purohit soon after 4pm before the meeting of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) to elect a new leader.
Citing continued humiliation by the Congress leadership over the past two months, Capt Amarinder made it clear that he would explore and exercise his future options when the time comes, “There is always an option, and I will use that option when the time comes. At the moment I am still in the Congress,” he said after submitting his resignation.
“I was humiliated three times by the Congress leadership in the past two month. They called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now convened CLP here,” Amarinder said, adding that he had decided and informed Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the morning that he would resign.
“Apparently they (Congress high command) do not have confidence in me and did not think I could handle my job. But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair,” he told reporters at the gate of the Raj Bhavan after giving his resignation letter to the Governor. “Let them appoint who they trust,” he remarked, taking a dig at the party leadership.
After the arrival of AICC general secretary incharge of the State Harish Rawat and Central observer Ajay Maken in Chandigarh, it was clear that Capt Amarinder would be removed if he did not tender his resignation. Sensing the mood, he rushed to the Raj Bhavan and tendered the one-line resignation letter which said, “I hereby tender my resignation as Chief Minister, and that of my Council of Ministers.”
The political script in Punjab has an uncanny similarity with the one in BJP ruled Gujarat where not only the Chief Minister but the entire Cabinet was replaced to give the Government a brand new look ahead of the elections.
Political circles in Punjab are rife with similar speculation though it is unlikely that the entire Cabinet in Punjab would be changed, but sources do not rule out a major surgical operation to weed out the non-performers.
On the sudden change of leadership, Congress sources said that its internal reports suggested that there was an undercurrent against the sitting Chief Minister for being inaccessible to the party workers and even MLAs and Ministers. “Going to elections with this sort of an upheaval where everyone was against someone (Capt Amarinder) it was not prudent to leave things (elections) to chance,” said a senior party leader. He added that anti-incumbency is a big factor in Punjab where Governments are not repeated (except Akalis once) and taking corrective measures in line with the demands and wishes of the MLAs, was a practical political solution.
A party MLA added that the Raja of Patiala was busy enjoying life in the sere Siswan Dam area near Chandigarh where he lives in his farm house and had cut off himself from the ground realities of grassroots politics.
In the CLP meeting, as expected and as per the traditions of Congress, MLAs authorised party president Sonia Gandhi to pick a new CLP leader (Chief Minister) with a resolution to this effect being passed unanimously in a meeting of the hurriedly convened “emergency” meeting.
Central observer Ajay Maken said 78 of 80 party MLAs were present in the meeting. He said another resolution praising and thanking Capt Amarinder for his contribution towards Punjab and the Congress was also unanimously passed at the meeting. “We expect that the party will continue to get guidance from Amarinder Singh,” he said.
Amongst the top contenders in the race for becoming the interim Chief Minister till the elections, former State Congress chief Sunil Jakhar tops the list. A staunch loyalist of Capt Amarinder till recent months, he changed track when he sensed the brewing resentment against the CM amongst the MLAs and silently became neutral. He was replaced by Navjot Singh Sidhu two months ago in July. If Jakhar is chosen, Congress would go with both– a Jat Sikh and a Hindu — into the polls, bringing in the caste and community equation in the Sikh majority State.