Congress Creates Mess in Punjab

By Satyen Mohapatra

Despite Punjab’s Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi flashing a ‘thumbs up’ sign after a three hour long meeting three days ago with Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Navjot Singh Sidhu (who had resigned from his post) to placate him, there seems to be no  end to the Punjab imbroglio.

Unless the details and fine print of the terms agreed upon were out and both parties solemnly and seriously commit to abide by them, the whole exercise may have been a waste.

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Getting into a complete mess is something which the Congress seems to have developed into a fine art.

Was not the example of Punjab given every time as a political success story of the Congress party by virtually everyone? That too, when in state after state the oldest political party fared poorly during elections.

The credit for Punjab success story was given to the erstwhile, no nonsense CM of Congress Captain Amarinder Singh.

Now Captain Amarinder Singh has publicly declared that he will resign from Congress. He put all speculations at bay by stating that he is not joining BJP.

A mature politician, he can deftly move towards forming his own party taking along the anti-Sidhu elements from the Congress and have sufficient bargaining power come elections.

The last ditch efforts were also on from Mrs Ambika Soni and Kamal Nath, who are supposedly close to him, to placate him.

Amarinder Singh has virtually vowed that he would not allow Sidhu to win in the next elections.

When fast moving political activity is taking place and media goes on an overdrive with political advisers having a field day, the picture is bound to become blurred. One must be extremely careful not to draw any quick conclusion.

All eyes were on the Channi-Sidhu meeting. Who knows if the  new Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi will be able to soften the stance taken by Navjot Singh Sidhu. The former cricketer turned politician resigned from the post of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief stating that he would give up post but NOT “compromise.”

Several actions of Channi, including appointments of DGP and AG besides distribution of cabinet posts, have irked Sidhu who obviously had ambitions to be the Chief Minister himself. Now Channi elected as the choice of everyone and Sidhu being made PPCC chief made everyone believe he would run the government remotely. That also has not taken place with Channi not interested in being a rubber stamp but having a firm and independent mind of his own to take his own decisions.

No wonder Sidhu resigned.

Putting Channi as the first Dalit CM of Punjab is considered to be a masterstroke of Congress high command to garner 32 percent of the Dalit votes, but then Sidhu has to be kept in check. Otherwise, Channi is likely to be dominated by Sidhu and there would be internecine conflict.

As for how far the government or CM can and should be  influenced by the party chief  depends entirely on the equation of the two people heading these  separate institutions.

With many including outgoing CM Amarinder Singh  declaring that Channi should not be influenced by Sidhu it remains to be seen as to what kind of relationship will build up between both. The key to success in Punjab for Congress will depend on that.

But then the Congress high command should have tried to avoid such conflicts by giving some other job to Sidhu rather than the PPCC chief — knowing very well that the party and government have to work in tandem and cannot work at cross purposes if the state machinery is to run smoothly.

If they believed that Sidhu would be able to work away from the corridors of power and silently galvanize the party at the grassroots level and develop it into a well oiled machine to contest the forthcoming elections, they were sadly mistaken.

Choices for Sidhu are limited. If  he sticks to his resignation and the party accepts it, then he may soon be looking for another political party to join. AAP could be a taker because it is also looking for a credible “game changer” as the Punjab CM face where Sidhu’s entry may create a buzz during elections.

If Sidhu decides to continue as PPCC chief  then he may have to learn to play second fiddle to the CM which is a tough and virtually impossible task for Sidhu. Former CM Amarinder Singh has always stressed that Sidhu is not a team player but a loner.

With PPCC chief Sidhu getting a chance to work for  the Congress party at the grass roots level in Punjab, will he  actually be the face of Congress during elections? There are misgivings to this now looking at his temperamental style of functioning .

Being branded as “unstable” does not enhance one’s image — however much one may exude flamboyance  charisma and oratory.

For Congress high command, the Punjab crisis must serve as a lesson that a temperamental leader can lead to a lot of loss of face for the party. Despite fulfilling all his political desires, the threat will always continue to be “My way or highway!”

The Congress will always be haunted by whether it was worthwhile to humiliate and remove a loyalist CM for a maverick.

For the time being, the Congress high command —  considering the overwhelming criticism of the way things were being handled in Punjab —  must have made it clear in no uncertain terms to Sidhu that he  must sit together and sort things out with Channi. This authoritativeness should have been shown much earlier to keep Sidhu in check. Perhaps then, even the Captain would have stayed in the party.

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