In a split stick, Punjab Congress must clean up its house ahead of Assembly elections
The next Assembly elections in Punjab are the losers for the Congress. The party’s election campaign, scheduled for February-March 2022, is caught between the story of two Sidhus from Patiala and their mutual political animosity. The Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, is a Sidhu although he does not use the surname he shares with his pet peeve, Navjot Singh Sidhu. Both are Jat Sikhs and come from the same town of Patiala. The similarities end there, as the Congressional high command has understood, trying to ensure that their differences do not affect the party’s electoral prospects. On paper, Congress faces little opposition from other political parties. The Akalis never recovered from the beating they suffered in 2017. The 2015 incident of the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib weighs heavily on them. They have no defense against this and cannot escape what Sikhs consider to be the ultimate sin. They signed a pact with the Bahujan Samaj party for the elections, but that did not reassure their supporters. The Aam Aadmi Party is resting on its laurels in 2017, this time trying to become an influencer. The Bharatiya Janata Party faces the wrath of the Punjabi farming community over the new agricultural laws. However, these parties are waiting for the infighting in Congress to explode, to pick up the best bits before the election. Nothing is working in the direction of Congress at the moment. The captain, known for his authoritarian rule, his reliance on bureaucracy and his habit of being aloof from party workers and lawmakers, is not very popular in the Congressional Unity of the ‘State.
He prefers war to diplomacy against his rivals, whether Sidhu, Pratap Bajwa, Ravneet Bittu and Amarinder Singh Raja Warring. Everyone has their own pocket of influence in the state and the party and sees themselves as a potential chief minister. The Captain faces, outside of the usual anti-interim, accusations of nepotism and worse yet, a snitch for the Akali patriarchs, the Badals. This is precisely why Navjot Sidhu brings up the 2015 desecration case, indirectly attacking the captain for not seriously wanting to prosecute the perpetrators. The party’s high command seems to have no lost love for him, although he is also annoyed by Sidhu’s frequent explosions. The dilemma before him is whether he will face the elections under Amarinder Singh, in which case he will have to appease the rival pack of leaders. He sent an encouraging signal to rivals by replacing Captain Asha Kumari’s sympathizer with Harish Rawat as AICC general secretary in charge of Punjab. The captain, who returned to Chandigarh without meeting the leaders in Delhi, has yet to receive a positive signal. The worst fear of the high command is the irreparable breakdown of state unity in the run-up to the elections. The worst thing the high command can do is to be openly partisan on one side and make matters worse.