Post its worst ever defeat in the 2014 General elections, the Congress regained power in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. However, factionalism has left the party in a mess. Even after losing Madhya Pradesh to the BJP, the Congress leadership has failed to put the house in order in the rest of the states where it’s in power.
In the midst of fights among camps for the Chief Minister’s chair in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the party decided for a change in leadership in Punjab. The turmoil in Punjab that kept brewing for several months culminated with the resignation of Chief Minister Capt, Amarinder Singh. Widely viewed as a strong leader, Amarinder had led the party to victory in 2017.
The stepping down of Amarinder and appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the new CM is widely perceived as a victory for the war veteran’s rival and Punjab Congress chief and ex- Cricketer, Navjot Singh Sidhu. Till the other day, Congress seemed set for a second successive term. The leadership change- a few months before the polls- has raised many eyebrows. The Punjab episode may have its ramifications in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan as well.
Singh and Sidhu have been at loggerheads since his controversial visit to Pakistan for the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan as Prime Minister , where he had hugged the Army Chief that led to a huge controversy in India. However, Sidhu enjoys the backing of the Gandhi family.
Sidhu’s growing prominence was evident when the Congress’ Punjab affairs chief, Harish Rawat said that Sidhu would be the face of the party in the assembly polls. Annoyed, former Punjab state unit president, Sunil Jakhar- who was also in the race for the CM’s post- termed Rawat’s statement, as ‘baffling’. Later, in a face saving exercise, the party clarified that both Channi and Sidhu will lead Punjab Congress in the early next year’s polls.
It remains to be seen what’s going to be Amarinder’s next move. He has made it clear that he will fight ‘tooth and nail’ to stop Sidhu from becoming the chief minister. “He (Sidhu) is dangerous for the state,” Amarinder said.
By having Channi as Amarinder’s successor, Congress has played the Dalit card. At stake is the 30 per cent Dalit vote bank. Many have hailed the decision as a masterstroke.
Incidentally, twenty two years ago in 1999, Congress had tried such an experiment in Odisha, though the reasons were different. With an eye on the 22 percent tribal population of Odisha, the party leadership, made popular tribal leader, nine-time MP, Giridhar Gamang the CM, just less than a year before the polls.
Well before Gamang entered the office, the government had already been unpopular. It’s a different story that, continuous power struggle within the party, hardly allowed him to assert his authority. However, his government’s pathetic relief and rehabilitation response to the devastating Super Cyclone, latter that year, caused statewide resentment. Though Gamang resigned a few months before the 2000 polls, tussles for power in the party, didn’t end.