Friday, 25 June 2021 | Pioneer
In a cleft stick, the Punjab Congress needs to bring its house in order before the Assembly elections
The forthcoming Assembly election in Punjab is for the Congress to lose. The party’s campaign for the election, scheduled for February-March 2022, is caught between the tale of two Sidhus from Patiala and their mutual political animosity. The Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, is a Sidhu though he does not use the surname which he shares with his bete noire, Navjot Singh Sidhu. Both are Jat Sikhs and hail from the same city of Patiala. The similarities end there as the Congress high command has realised, trying to ensure that their differences will not affect the party’s electoral prospects. On paper, the Congress faces little opposition from other political parties. The Akalis have never recovered from the drubbing they got in 2017. The 2015 incident of the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib weighs heavily on them. They have no defence against it and cannot wriggle out of what the Sikhs consider the ultimate sin. They have signed a pact with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the elections, but that has not made their supporters confident. The Aam Aadmi Party rests on its 2017 laurels, trying to become an influencer this time. The Bharatiya Janata Party faces the ire of the farming community in Punjab over the new farm laws. However, these parties are waiting for theCongress infighting to implode, to pick up the best pieces before the elections. Nothing is going the Congress way at present. The Captain, known for his authoritarian rule, dependence on the bureaucracy, and the habit of being aloof from party workers and legislators, is not too popular in the State Congress unit.
He prefers war over diplomacy in dealing with his rivals, whether Sidhu, Pratap Bajwa, Ravneet Bittu and Amarinder Singh Raja Warring. Each has his pocket of influence in the State and the party and sees himself as a potential Chief Minister. The Captain faces, apart from the usual anti-incumbency, charges of nepotism and worse, a soft corner for the Akali patriarchs, the Badals. That is precisely why Navjot Sidhu raises the 2015 desecration affair, obliquely hitting out at the Captain for not being serious about pursuing the perpetrators. The party high command appears to have no love lost for him even though it is also miffed with Sidhu’s frequent outbursts. The dilemma before it is whether to face the elections under Amarinder Singh, in which case it will have to pacify the rival pack of leaders. It has sent an encouraging signal to the rivals by replacing Captain’s sympathiser Asha Kumari with Harish Rawat as the AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab. The Captain, who returned to Chandigarh without meeting the leadership in Delhi, is yet to get a positive signal. The worst fear of the high command is the State unit breaking up beyond repair as elections approach. The worst move the high command can make is being openly partisan to any one side and further inflame matters.