Last week has been one of the most politically eventful weeks for fast evolving developments in the state of Punjab, the last major state ruled by Congress party, which is also scheduled to go in for assembly elections in few months. Not many could have imagined that Captain Amrinder Singh, one of the most powerful Chief Ministers of Congress, would be forced to resign under dramatic circumstances. Equally dramatic was the appointment of Charanjeet Singh Channi, a Dalit Mazhabi Sikh as Punjab’s first Dalit Chief Minister. And while every one was still digesting the fast-changing political developments in Punjab, came the news of the resignation of Navjot Singh Sidhu as Punjab State Congress President. So, what do all these developments mean for the upcoming elections in the state of Punjab and also what does it say about the health of the Congress party that seems to be jumping from one crisis to another.
Congress party has been in free fall since it lost power back-to-back in 2014 & 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Its tally in Lok Sabha has been reduced to less than three digits in two consecutive parliamentary elections. Even though Congress captured three crucial states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018, it was not able to repeat the stupendous performance few months later in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which many political analysts point to the massive vote of approval and appreciation that Indian electorate showed for Modi administration’s decision of surgical strike on terrorist camp site in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
The state of Punjab was however an exception, where Congress actually performed better in Lok Sabha elections, which many point to the political charisma of Captain Amrinder Singh, the Chief Minister and powerful Congress leader from Punjab. So, what really happened that Captain Amrinder Singh soon fell out of the favor of both Gandhi family as well as the people of Punjab that eventually pushed Punjab state into such messy political crisis just few months before the election?
Most political analysts blame failure of Captain Amrinder Singh to deliver on his election promises like getting Punjab rid of its massive drug addiction problem and inaccessibility of Captain Amrinder Singh, even to his own party MLAs as reason for his growing unpopularity among masses of Punjab. Navjot Singh Sidhu’s entry at the behest of Gandhi family was believed to be facilitated largely to create a counter source of power within Congress for disgruntled Congress MLAs, so that they don’t run away to opposition camps.
The circumstances that eventually forced Captain Amrinder Singh was the collective belief that Congress may face massive anti-incumbency wave in Punjab state elections slated to be held in few months. What surprised many was however appointment of young Dalit Sikh MLA Charanjeet Singh Channi as a short-term Chief Minister of Punjab in a state that has for last many decades seen mostly Jatt Sikh Chief Ministers (except Giani Zail Singh, who belonged to an OBC caste). The appointment of a Dalit Sikh as CM did upset the political status quo as both Amrinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu found it difficult to play politics around the optics of Punjab having its first Dalit Chief Minister.
Charanjeet Singh Channi, who many were thinking would only be a lame duck Chief Minster for few months, till next elections, when if congress comes to power, Navjot Singh Sidhu take over reins of CM post, but he instead appeared to be more cleaver as he orchestrated political appointments for the post of Attorney General of Punjab and Ministerial position in his cabinet in such as way that enraged Sidhu and compelled him to resign from the post of Punjab state Congress president, a post on which he was appointed just few weeks back.
Charanjeet Singh Channi appointed Rana Gurjeet Singh, a controversial MLA, who was earlier cabinet Minister in Captain Amrinder Singh’s government and was sacked from the cabinet on grounds of corruption. Sidhu was opposed to his reinduction in Channi Singh Cabinet. Similarly, Channi appointed APS Deol as Attorney General of Punjab. Deol is someone, who has in the past represented Badal family in corruption cases. Navjot Singh Sidhu was opposed to appointment of both Rana and Deol and this is something that Channi knew very well. Many analysts believe that Channi deliberately made those political appointments only to make sure that Sidhu, who is known to be temperamental person, would get enraged and resign and thereby clear the greatest obstacle for Channi in his path to not only remain Chief Minister of Punjab for newt few months, but also portray himself as CM candidate on behalf of Congress for next elections.
Now all this unfolding political drama does not arguer well for the health of Congress party, which continues to be seen as a badly divided house that is incapable of providing stable leadership both within party level as well as in states, where it is in government. This coms at a time, when the major opposition in the form of Akali Dal is badly discredited in the eyes of the people of Punjab due to their past association with BJP that introduced farm laws, vehemently opposed by the farming community of the state of Punjab. The Punjab unit of AAP, which is giving a tough competition to Congress, however does not have a credible CM face and that is its greatest weakness.
Hence in view of such a weak opposition, to see such infighting and chaos happening inside Punjab unit of congress party is really worrying as if impacts people’s perception of Congress as a drowning ship that is unable and uninterested to save itself. The plight of congress, when juxtaposed with how non controversially BJP replaced three of its Chief Ministers in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Gujarat without any disciplinarian problems shows that Congress needs to badly set its house in order, if it desires to provide credible competition to BJP on national level in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Congress is facing an existential crisis like never before and if its does not sort its house in order, it may soon pass into political oblivion.
Javed Beigh is a Senior Political Leader & General Secretary of People’s Democratic Front. He fought DDC elections from Beerwah Constituency of Central Kashmirs Budgam District.He is also a distinguished Writer and renowned Public Speaker. He can be reached @javedbeigh across Social Media Platforms. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed his personal.