Thursday, August 5, 2021

Punjab Congress crisis deepens

  • Sonia summons Sidhu again
  • No question of Amaridner and Sidhu working together
  • The Congress chief has to choose one of them
  • MP kind of situation presents itself
  • A difficult decision to make

The Punjab crisis is back to square one. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has summoned the young challenger Navjot Singh Sidhu for talks. Her plan to have him appointed as the PCC president is being stoutly opposed by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Both the chief minister and his rival had meetings with their followers on Thursday evening. Amarinder seems to have got exasperated with the party high command’s insistence on accommodating Sidhu in a respectable position. If the party leadership goes with its decision, the chief minister is  reportedly prepared to leave the party and float his own regional outfit or join the BJP.

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Bitter rivals

There is little likelihood of the captain and the former cricketer sailing together any more. They have become bitter rivals over the period since 2017 when Amarinder refused to take Sidhu as deputy chief minister. Sidhu was in the cabinet for a few months and left in a huff on his return from his controversial Pakistan visit. Ever since, Sidhu kept quiet for most part of the time. Since elections are fast approaching, he raised the bogey again forcing  the high command to take a stand.

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Kamal Nath’s experience

Former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Kamal Nath who met Sonia Gandhi on Thursday must have given a hint to the Congress president. As it was done in the case of MP where she had to choose between Kamal Nath and his bête noire Jyotiraditya Scindia, she opted for Nath and let Scindia migrate to the BJP with considerable chunk of MLAs who could successfully fell the Congress government.  Sidhu does not have the clout enjoyed by Jyotiraditya although he is as popular in Punjab and the scion of Scindias in MP. There is no presence of BJP in Punjab and the Akali Dal is not on friendly terms with the BJP. The situation is in Punjab is entirely different from that of MP during Jyotiraditya’s rebellion. Sidhu does not have the numbers that Sachin Pilot had when he rebelled against Rajasthan chief minister, Ashok Gehlot.  There is no danger of the Congress losing the government in Punjab but the elections are round the corner and any decision taken now will have its impact on the outcome in 2022.

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Who is a better bet?

Sonia has to choose between Amarinder and Sidhu. If she chooses to sail with Amrarinder, Sidhu will jolly well go into the waiting arms of the AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and work for the new party’s victory in Punjab. If AAP wins, which is not unlikely, Sidhu would be the chief minister.  Sonia has to decide now who between the chief minister and the challenger enjoys more popularity. If her gut feeling tells her it is the young former cricketer who has a future, she should go ahead and appoint him as the PCC president. Should she think otherwise and feel that Amarinder Singh would be a better bet, she should let Sidhu to go away the same way she allowed Jyotiraditya. The ideal situation of having both the captain and the former cricketer in the party and campaign together in the coming elections, which would mostly likely result in Congress retaining power, is just not feasible given the ego trips of both the  pugilists. She lost her government in MP by siding with the old horse, what should she do now?

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A weakened command

The Congress high command has been getting weaker by the day since it is not in power either at the Centre or in States. Most importantly, it is not giving assurance that it would come to power in 2024.  Punjab is one of the three important States, beside Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the party is in power. Even to run AICC office in a frugal manner, the party high command has to depend on the chief ministers for funds to pay salaries. Of the three States, Punjab is the most prosperous one. Sonia cannot antagonize the chief minister now. If she goes by her intuition and supports Sidhu she would find it difficult to finance the election effort in Punjab. If she is with the captain, he would not only take care of Punjab campaign but also help the party in UP. It is a difficult decision to make. A weak party high command cannot dictate terms to strong chief ministers. It is the other way round.

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K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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