The Congress has set in motion a series of events in Punjab that it can no longer control
Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced plans to launch a new political outfit and explore an arrangement with the BJP, ahead of next year’s Assembly election in the State. The BJP is warming up to the idea. The proposed new party and its partnership with the BJP is an act of expediency and opportunism of high order by both sides. The Congress had forced Mr. Singh to quit as the Chief Minister in September, bringing an abrupt end to his role at the helm of party affairs in the State.
The reasons for his removal were not just, but his decision to quit the party that he has been associated with for four decades says something unflattering about Mr. Singh. That he could think of joining hands with the BJP without batting an eyelid also shows that there is little more than a sense of entitlement in his politics.
The Captain has been a central character in Congress politics, particularly in the years following the rise of the BJP in 2014. He led the party to victory in Punjab in 2017, and in 2019, the Congress’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls in the State was outstanding. After all that, Mr. Singh has chosen to cap his long political career by sleeping with the enemy.
The BJP is a marginal player in Punjab, and the ongoing controversy over three farm laws has further alienated it from the entrenched farming communities in the State. The debate on the merits of the farm laws apart, the BJP also questioned the patriotism of the protestors. The party is now hoping for an outreach to the Sikh farmers through a partnership with the Captain.
Whether it can offer any compromise that the farmers might find palatable remains to be seen. The Congress high command cannot absolve itself of the mess in the State. It decided to unsettle its own government for no apparent reason, and elevated a turncoat to lead its State unit. The party appointed a Dalit Sikh as Chief Minister in place of Mr. Singh, which is a bold experiment that is fraught with fresh problems.
If it can mobilise public opinion in favour of its social justice politics, the Congress can remain in the reckoning. The Akali Dal, having parted with its long-term ally, the BJP, is now hoping to gain from the confusion arising out of the crisis in the Congress. The Congress has set in motion a series of events that it is no longer in control of. It also appears incapable of recalibrating its strategy for the State. With an untested Chief Minister and a conceited party chief in command, the party finds itself in an unenviable position in Punjab. The desertion by Mr. Singh makes its prospects considerably worse.
While it might be too late to keep the former Chief Minister in the fold, the least the Congress high command can do is to strengthen the hands of Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and not give the impression that he is keeping the seat warm for the maverick Punjab unit chief of the party, Navjot Singh Sidhu.