Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh met the three-member Congress panel on Punjab affairs on Tuesday, 22 June, and registered his protest against the recent statements made by his rival within the party, Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The panel is also said to have sought the Punjab CM’s explanation on his decision to give government jobs to the sons of two Congress leaders.
Captain's meeting with the panel – comprising Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress in-charge for Punjab Harish Rawat and senior leader JP Aggarwal – lasted over three hours.
“We are confident we will be able to resolve the differences,” Rawat told the media after the meeting.
Parallely, a number of MLAs and a few MPs from Punjab came to meet former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
These meetings are taking place after the three-member panel has already met most of the MPs and MLAs and Rahul Gandhi too has spoken to a few of them.
This story will try to answer the following questions:
1. What's likely to happen in the next few days?
2. What are the main bones of contention?
3. Where do Captain and Sidhu stand?
4. What lies ahead for the party and for Punjab politics?
What May Happen in the Next Few Days?
The next important meeting is likely to be between Captain Amarinder Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The party leadership will also reach out to Sidhu as well.
It has become clear to the party that while they may persist with Captain Amarinder, he will have to be more accommodative in addressing the concerns of other leaders.
It is believed that some kind of arrangement could be finalised in less than a week's time. Whether that would be acceptable to all the parties in the Punjab Congress isn't clear.
Sources in the Congress say that a few issues remain unresolved.
What Are the Main Bones of Contention?
Sidhu is said to be adamant on the post of the Punjab Congress president, while Captain is equally adamant against giving it to him.
Sidhu has harmed his own cause by giving a number of interviews attacking Captain, even calling him a “liar”. Even though former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is in favour of Sidhu, the latter's recent comments may make it difficult for Gandhi to back him completely.
The second issue is that of Captain giving government jobs to the sons of MLAs Fatehjang Bajwa and Rakesh Pandey. This decision split the Punjab Congress down the middle.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and cabinet ministers like Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Razia Sultana, Charanjit Singh Channi and Sukhbinder Sarkaria, MLAs Kuljit Nagra and Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Punjab Youth Congress chief Brinder Dhillon opposed the move.
Soon after their opposition, a number of Captain loyalists such as ministers Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Vijay Inder Singla, Aruna Chaudhary, Sunder Sham Arora, Gurpreet Singh Kangar, Balbir Singh Sidhu, OP Soni, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and MPs Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Jasbir Singh Dimpa and Mohammad Sadiq, came out to defend the decision.
Now, the thing is that the ministers and leaders who opposed the move aren't really Sidhu loyalists, yet they came out against Captain on this. This has dented the CM’s popularity and harmed his bargaining power.
Where Do Captain and Sidhu Stand?
Captain Amarinder Singh
As things stand today, Captain Amarinder is alright with Sidhu being made deputy CM and being given a few ministries. He may also favour changing the PCC chief, so long as the replacement is not Sidhu.
Such an arrangement would undoubtedly make Captain the main face for the party for the 2022 Assembly polls.
On the other hand, if Sidhu becomes PCC chief, it would mean that he’ll have a greater say in ticket distribution and a good chance of becoming CM, should the Congress win.
Sidhu wants the PCC chief's post because anything short of that would mean that Captain will dominate the ticket selection process and, as a result, get another shot at the CM’s chair should the Congress win.
Sidhu’s main advantage is that he has a clear slate compared to the Badals and Captain and is more charismatic than the AAP’s main face in Punjab, Bhagwant Mann.
However, he has limited options. In case things don't work out in Congress, his main alternative would be Aam Aadmi Party. While AAP is open to getting him on board but reluctant to make him the CM face. There are fears that if Sidhu becomes CM, he may begin operating completely independent from party leadership.
No doubt, there is a political vacuum in Punjab – with Congress and Akalis unpopular, AAP lacking a credible face and BJP completely discredited. But it may be too late for Sidhu to breakaway and form his own party.
What Lies Ahead
The Congress needs to acknowledge the ground realities in Punjab. Captain is hugely unpopular as CM. According to CVoter's survey, he has a poor approval rating and is ranked among the least popular CM's in the country.
Due to the farmers' protest, Punjab is in a mood for change. Though the anger of the protesters is against the BJP and Akali Dal and not the state government, there's no guarantee that the dissatisfaction will remain compartmentalised. In fact, Captain's government has also faced a number of protests from government employees, farmers, Dalits, ASHA workers etc.
In such a scenario, the party can’t come up with a status quo solution. A change element is necessary and Captain may have to be persuaded to concede space, whether it is to Sidhu or someone else is a different matter.
If an acceptable power sharing doesn't take place, then it would be harmful for the Congress as it may lead to defections from the party.
If a vacuum is allowed to be created, it's only a matter of time before someone or the other will come and try to fill it.
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