Congress Holds Centre Stage in Punjab Political Circus for Now
Sidhu Vs Amarinder Singh
Barely six months ahead of state assembly polls, a political circus is in full swing in Punjab. For the time being it is the grand old party that is holding centre stage.
Over the last couple of months the Congress has seen a tussle between the chief minister, Amarinder Singh and newfound poster boy of the party high command Navjot Singh Sidhu, culminating in installation of the latter as state party chief replacing Sunil Jakhar.
But as they say Picture abhi baaki hai, there is lots more to come, as observers wait and watch for the time of ticket distribution to the aspirants of different camps in the party.
Come to think of it, for more than two months the Congress was both the government and the opposition in the state, with Sidhu criticising Amarinder Singh day in and day out for non-deliverance. Political observers say it is all at the behest of the party high command, to “show Amarinder his place” given how he cold-shouldered them in the run up to the 2017 polls, and has shown attitude on various occasions.
It is well known that the 2017 polls were an Amarinder Singh show, with the Congress picking up 77 seats of 117 even as its fortunes were plummeting across the country, and a rookie Aam Aadmi Party was threatening to walk away with victory honours in Punjab. Now with Sidhu installed as its state chief, the “bankruptcy” of the Congress party has become a laughing matter, with detractors congratulating the party leadership for handing the reins to a political butterfly known for changing parties time and again and frequently hobnobbing with others.
They point out that Sidhu often made fun of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and also popularised the nickname Pappu for Rahul Gandhi. The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has come out with a hard hitting video tweet on this.
The ceremony marking Sidhu’s taking over the post was no less dramatic, with Amarinder refusing to attend unless Sidhu apologised for the derogatory remarks he had made against him on social media and otherwise. It was only after the intervention of the party high command that he relented, and attended the function that was also full of drama.
Sidhu reportedly touched the feet of senior leaders while bypassing Singh. His followers kept chanting his name while Amarinder was addressing those present. Singh had to twice ask Sidhu to listen to what he was saying.
Known as a motor mouth, Sidhu had his first brush with trouble when he made a remark in context of the farmers agitating against the bills passed by the Narendra-Modi led government last year.
At his installation ceremony Sidhu reportedly said: “I say to the Kisan Morcha people, my elders, that the thirsty walk to the well. The well does not go to the thirsty. I invite you today. I want to meet you.”
Later when Sidhu visited a gurdwara in Ropar the offended farmers greeted him with black flags. He had to later retract what he had said and assert that he supported the farmers wholeheartedly.
It is a fact that the people are unhappy with the Punjab government not delivering on promises made ahead of the 2017 polls. Many observers feel that Sidhu is making space for himself amid this discontent, with the Congress leadership trying to divert people’s attention by projecting a new leader who is pretty popular.
Ahead of the last assembly polls Singh had reportedly said that it would be his last electoral battle, only to change his stance later.
Sidhu meanwhile has been talking about developing a Punjab Model and has come out with an 18-point agenda to be implemented ahead of the polls.
He is playing up five priority areas: immediate action in the sacrilege of holy texts and police firing cases of 2015 at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan, which continue to be huge emotive issues —arrest of the big fish behind drug trafficking —rejection of the three farm laws which farmers oppose —cancelling of faulty power purchase agreements without any further loss of public money —and ensuring inclusive development while resolving the issues of various sections of employees.
He raised these at the first formal meeting with Singh. The latter underlined that his government had already implemented the majority of the promises made in the last election manifesto while others were being resolved.
Stressing the need to work united in the interest of the party, he told Sidhu along with the four new working presidents, “Your win is my win and our win is the party’s win, and we need to work together in the interest of the state and its people.”
Meanwhile on July 28 Amarinder Singh ordered the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited to cancel or revisit all the one-sided power purchase agreements with private companies that are not contractually obliged to supply sufficient power to meet the state’s peak demand during the paddy sowing and summer season.
He has also called for examining all the agreements signed by the erstwhile Akali–BJP government with the various independent power producers.
He wrote to Prime Minister NarendraModi about reopening the Kartarpur corridor in view of the improved Covid situation.
Meanwhile Sidhu has started claiming that his five priority areas are getting a push. Observers say it is a tricky situation for the CM, as Sidhu can always take credit for pro-people decisions in the next couple of months while shifting the blame for what remains undelivered.
Many more fireworks are expected in the days to come, yet the general perception is that the matter will eventually boil down to the ticket distribution.