Until a couple of weeks ago for all practical purposes, Capt Amarinder Singh seemed all set for smooth re-election in Punjab assembly elections early next year. A clean sweep of the Congress in civic elections in February amidst farm protests seemed like an indication that the Maharaja of Patiala was poised for a clear comeback
However, matters within the party began to unravel after Punjab & Haryana High Court in its April 9 judgement quashed a Punjab police SIT probing a series of incidents into 2015 Kotkapura police firing incident, which took place during a protest against the desecration of the Sikh religious text in Punjab’s Faridkot some six years ago.
Seizing upon the sensitive religious issue, the chief minister’s rivals– such as Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa and estranged party MLA Navjot Sidhu– charged Capt Singh with trying to protect Akali Dal leaders such as the Badals– in the sacrilege issue. They even attacked state advocate general Atul Nanda for not fighting the Government’s case adequately in the high court.
Even the state government’s attempt to set up a new three-member (SIT) to probe the Kotkapura police firing incident refused to calm the mood in the party and the cacophony of protests against Capt Singh became too loud for the Congress leadership to ignore. Eventually, a three-member panel was set up under the leadership of the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. The panel met for four days this week to act as a sounding board to assuage MLAs, MPs and party workers who for some reason nursed grievances against the CM.
Does it seem odd that there should be so much grievance against a CM in a year when there has been recording the purchase of wheat in Punjab and farmers have begun receiving payment from the Food Corporation of India directly into their bank accounts for their product for the first time? Or has the Congress leadership just been unhappy with the ageing CM just because it wants to push someone of its own choice– a younger former test cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu to be the face of the Congress in the elections.
No groupism in Punjab Congress:
“This isn’t the first time that such a thing has happened against an incumbent Congress CM in an election year. Complaints against Chief Ministers are usually voiced during polls. But one redeeming feature of these complaints this time in Punjab is that it is not being voiced by a group acting in tandem. What I’m trying to say is that there is no groupism in the Congress unit in Punjab — only a handful of individuals are airing their concerns. And everyone is being heard, ” said a member of the Kharge panel.
He pointed out that it was not just Punjab CM who was facing such harsh scrutiny from his party legislators. ” You can’t blame just Congress MLAs. In election-bound UP and Uttrakhand too, BJP chief ministers were facing friendly fire from their own MLAs. Not only in the north, but BJP CM Karnataka is also facing resistance. What do you say to that?”
So were a handful of Punjab MLAs getting restive about the Chief Minister just because he had hired election strategist Prashant Kishor– a la Mamata Banerjee style and feared that he was bound to cut their tickets during election time? ” Grouse of MLAs has nothing to do with Kishor. It has got plenty to do with how Capt Singh has largely remained inaccessible to party cadre and the administration here is so bureaucracy-driven. It is not Kishor, it is the one officer who matters– the single powerful bureaucrat in Chief Minister’s Office, ” points out a senior AICC functionary.
Punjab Congress leaders already shudder at the possible suggestions on the offer- the possibility of appointing of-two deputy CMs. In this context, they point out how critics of Capt Amarinder Singh– such as Rajya Sabha MPs Pratap Singh Bawa and Shamsher Singh Dullo are not reliable as they reportedly drive only a hard bargain. While Bawa was reportedly looking to accommodate his nephew in the state police, Dullo was looking to be made a deputy CM. ” It must be noted Bawa enjoys central security because of his equation with BJP central leaders and Dullo’s relatives are in other political parties. We hear Capt Singh is already quite cool to the idea of having deputy CMs, ” cautions a Punjab PCC functionary.
But then does it serve the Congress cause in Punjab to serve a snub to a veteran leader — 79-year-old Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh– and force him to go before the three-member committee and make him give an account of his governance. True to his style, Capt Singh did not make a fuss about going before the panel that heard him for close to three hours.
On their part members of the panel too are a bit resigned about the outcome of the entire exercise as a Rajasthan minister close to 12, Tughlak Road was found connecting Rahul Gandhi to disgruntled MLAs and most of them were being primed about what to tell the panel.
So under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the Kharge panel has not even given its recommendations yet. Kharge rightly chose to travel out of Delhi for a day and the panel is going to take time to decide on its verdict. That is because much will depend on what Rahul Gandhi has in mind for Punjab.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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