Having said that the Congress has managed to pour oil on troubled waters in Punjab with the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister, should Captain’s exit be a concern for the party anymore?
“I am not joining the BJP, but I won’t remain in the Congress.” Captain Amarinder Singh’s message was loud and clear that he is breaking 23-year-old association with the Grand Old Party. Antagonised over the “humiliation” suffered at the hands of the Congress leadership in Delhi, Captain, who once portrayed a positive image of the party, has now emerged as its biggest headache.
Reasons are many, but to make it unvarnished, the Congress is flustered over the speculations of former Punjab chief minister either joining hands with the BJP or floating his own party. In either case, the Congress stands to be be at the suffering end in the poll-bound state which has traditionally been one of its biggest strongholds.
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The unceremonious exit of Captain not just pushed the Congress into a fresh crisis in Punjab but also exposed the absence of decision-making in the leadership of the party whose footprints have shrunk to three states – Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – all facing internal feuds already.
But having said that the Congress has managed to pour oil on troubled waters in Punjab with the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister, should Captain’s exit be a concern for the party anymore?
Need of the hour?
Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, political commentator Dr Suvrokamal Dutta said that losing a veteran leader like Captain was a “suicidal attempt” by the Congress. “To sacrifice a veteran leader only because of the fancies of people like (Navjot Singh) Sidhu who are small turncoats in politics, is suicidal,” he said.
On the contrary, renowned author and journalist Rasheed Kidwai, however, accuses Captain of being a “laid-back politician” who did not enjoy popularity outside Punjab. “Captain Amarinder Singh is not an immensely popular figure within the Congress Parivar, particularly outside Punjab. Age is not on his side. Secondly, when he was removed as Punjab CM, 78 of the 80 MLAs went along with that decision. So, unlike Bhupesh Baghel or Ashok Gehlot, he doesn’t enjoy that majority support of even a fraction of it,” Kidwai told FinancialExpress.com.
Political experts believe that the Congress leadership decided to replace Captain with Channi owing to the perception that the former’s popularity was waning in the state. With the polls nearing, the Congress in Punjab not only faces anti-incumbency but also allegations of unkept promises of cracking down on drugs and sacrilege cases.
Yet, there is no denying the fact that the Congress’ victory in 2002 and 2017 assembly polls in Punjab when it snatched power from the Akalis has been credited to Captain’s leadership to a great extent.
Changing political equations in Punjab
Soon after stepping down as the chief minister, Captain had announced that he will fight to any extent to stop the chief ministerial bid of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who he termed as “dangerous” for the country. He had also announced that he will field his candidate against the then Punjab Congress chief to not let the latter win.
Amid speculations of Captain floating his own party, political analyst Amitabh Tiwari predicts a multi-cornered contest in the upcoming Punjab assembly polls. “With Captain coming in, there is a minimum five-cornered contest in Punjab, which means even 500-1000 votes will be important. In this way, he will also cause damage to other parties, including the BJP, if he gives tickets to hopefuls,” Tiwari said.
“But, since there are so many contenders in the race this time, Captain will not face any difficulty in getting candidates for the seats he wishes to contest in the upcoming elections.” Explaining the rationale behind this, Tiwari said that candidates from other parties joining him will eventually lead to losses for those respective parties.
Quoting a survey on the most popular CM faces of Congress in Punjab, which gave 18 per cent to Captain, Tiwari said, “Of course Congress will suffer more than anyone else because of Captain’s exit. If Captain forms a party of his own, the maximum share of votes for Congress that he will be able to get in his favour will be 4-7 per cent.”
With political pundits and opinion polls so far predicting a hung house in Punjab, Captain could gather a sizeable chunk of his supporters and split the Congress in Punjab to float a new front, specifically with a hope of making it relevant in post-electoral arithmetics.
Kidwai says that floating a new party and performing in the polls, however, will be no cake walk for Captain, owing to his age and past record when he broke ties with the Congress and joined Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in resistance against Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple.
“Amarinder Singh left the Congress in 1984 and came back in 1998. In between, all the elections which he contested, whether Lok Sabha or Assembly, when he formed his own party, he had performed very badly, getting even less 1,000 votes,” Kidwai told FinancialExpress.com
On speculations of Captain joining hands with the BJP, Kidwai says the former CM risks being seen as a “desperate bid or a rank opportunist”. “Owing to the ideological differences between two, anybody who joins the BJP from the Congress, it amounts to very clean break. If somebody goes to Trinamool Congress or Samajwadi Party or any other non-BJP, non-NDA party, still there is something. But with the BJP, the line is very sharp and not many dare to do this. But those who do, they actually break the umbilical chord,” he said.
Dutta, meanwhile, does not rule out “some very big surprises” before the election from Amarinder Singh. “He is an old horse, and we can’t just wish him away. There is every chance that he might float a party of his own, or even join the BJP. In both the scenarios, it is going to be a massive loss for the Congress.”
“When a citadel falls, the outsiders try to take advantage out of it; and the citadel in Punjab was that of Amarinder Singh and not of the Congress as such. It was solely solely because of the charismatic leadership of Captain that the Congress was able to snatch power from the Akali Dal and form a government there,” he added.
So what are the options for Captain now? Political analysts believe that joining SAD is next to impossible given his long public bitterness with the Badal family. As far as AAP is concerned, it also may not be interested in giving him space given the fact that Kejriwal has been charging the erstwhile Amarinder Singh government over drug menace and inaction in sacrilege cases.
This leaves Captain with the best bet of joining hands with the BJP, but that will be subject to the condition that the farmers’ issue is resolved in a timely manner, an issue which the former Punjab CM said he discussed with Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently.