Punjab Congress wracked by self-made mess
Fears of denial of ticket and/or polltime sabotage are already afloat, given that the Assembly elections are due in six months.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi spoke too soon the other day when he cited his Punjab unit as a successful model for defusing intra-party bickering. Till the Gandhis meddled in Punjab’s affairs, CM Amarinder Singh seemed certain of defeating anti-incumbency and getting a fresh mandate as he was its most charismatic leader there. It was the CM’s nimble statecraft that gave discomfort to the high command, as it imposed Navjot Singh Sidhu as the state party president, letting him question Amarinder’s decisions publicly and reducing him to a caricature. The sagacity the party recently showed over Chhattisgarh in dealing with the ambitions of T S Singh Deo, who had been promised rotational chief ministership two-and-a-half years ago, was sorely missing in Punjab. As a result, retaining power in Punjab, where the party has a whopping 80 seats in a House of 117, is no longer certain. Both factions are working at cross-purposes, parading their mutual strengths and claiming no-confidence in each other. If Nagaland produced a constitutional wonder a few weeks ago with zero opposition by having all lawmakers on the treasury benches, Punjab is its opposite as the fractured Congress is its own opposition, though not on paper. Fears of denial of ticket and/or polltime sabotage are already afloat, given that the Assembly elections are due in six months.
Sidhu’s choice of a couple of aides became an embarrassment due to their mindless statements on J&K and Pakistan. It prompted the party’s exasperated manager Harish Rawat to direct their sacking, drawing an angry retort from Sidhu that bordered on imprudence and a warning to the high command. His criticism of Amarinder may be valid on many counts, like the inaction on the sacrilege issue, which has been interpreted as being protective of the Badals. But what ought to be thrashed out within the party is being discussed openly, muddling the public messaging.
Unlike regional party heads aspiring for prime ministership, the Congress finds itself under test more frequently in state polls due to its pan-India presence. If it were to lose Punjab, Rahul’s chances of inspiring trust to lead the opposition against the Centre and eventually the government would suffer a body blow.