'Humiliated' Captain Will Fight Back - His Options
The tug of war between Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and the recently appointed state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu has resulted in the resignation of the former. Singh marched to Raj Bhawan and put in his papers just before the scheduled Congress Legislative Party meeting in Chandigarh on Saturday evening.
It might be a battle lost for Amarinder Singh but the war is definitely on as he has indicated in no uncertain terms that he intends to continue in politics for now and is keeping his options open. He will not take the humiliation inflicted on him lying down and has promised a fight, with both fists flying.
He has still to reveal his plans, but the options are already being discussed by his supporters and in political circles. There is very little time before the assembly polls in February and the model code of conduct will come into effect much earlier.
A large number of people are of the opinion that the ‘Maharaja of Patiala’ as he is still referred to is likely to float his own political outfit. Singh is a politician known for his pan Punjab image and taking a stand on issues as and when he wants.
“He is expected to have consultations with his supporters and confidants in the next few days, weigh the pros and cons and then take a decision,” sources closely associated with Singh’s poll campaign in 2017 told this reporter.
Amarinder Singh moved from Patiala’s royalty to the Indian Army and joined politics in 1980 when he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Patiala. He quit his seat in 1984 in protest against Operation Bluestar while continuing to maintain cordial relations with the Gandhi family.
He had then joined the Shiromani Akali Dal and became a Minister in the short lived Surjit Singh Barnala government that lasted just a year from 1985 to 1986. Thereafter he floated the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic) in 1992 and unsuccessfully contested the assembly polls held that year. He returned to the Congress in 1998 and led it to victory in 2002 and later in 2017.
Sources are of the view that if Singh starts his own party, he will be able to explore post poll alliances without having to compromise.
There has always hgbeen a view being expressed for quite some time that he might join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has been looking for a credible Sikh face in Punjab for long. But this possibility is being seen as remote at present because of the ongoing farmers’ agitation that has taken a strong stand against the BJP at the centre.
There is a possibility though, according to sources, that if Singh floats a party he might work in tandem with the BJP without declaring this in return for full support.
In fact, people here are already pointing out that Singh’s rants against Sidhu in a series of interviews he gave after quitting on Saturday smacked of the language used by BJP leaders. Singh has played up the issue of a threat to national security which he has often done in the past also along with the activities and designs of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. He once again attacked Sidhu for his visit to Pakistan to attend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s investiture and the reported bonhomie with Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“We have all seen Sidhu hugging Imran Khan and General Bajwa, and singing praises for the Pakistan Prime Minister at the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor while our soldiers were being killed at the borders every day,” Singh said, pointing out that the ex-cricketer had attended Imran Khan’s swearing-in even after he had categorically told him not to.
“The government of Punjab means the security of India, and if Sidhu is made the face of the Congress for chief ministership, I will fight him at every step,” he added.
There is also speculation that Singh might join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which again desperately needs a credible leader with a pan Punjab image. The party did have a strong presence in the Malwa belt but it has a lot of ground to cover in Doaba and Majha.
“But the manner in which AAP has been attacking him on every step right from Amarinder’s close friendship with Pakistani national Aroosa Alam to every facet of administration and governance would make things difficult from both ends unless the adage of politics making strange bedfellows gets translated into Punjab’s reality. AAP local leaders of course will not be happy if Amarinder is taken into the party.” the sources said.
Reacting to the developments, AAP leader Harpal Singh Cheema who is also the leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly pointed out that the voters were fed up with the ten years of ‘mafia rule’ of the Badals (Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal) and had expressed confidence in Amarinder Singh and the Congress with great hope.
“The more confidence they expressed, the more disappointed they got in four-and-a-half-years. The Congress infighting left behind all the main issues of Punjab and the people. This is the reason that today people have started hating Congress on the lines of the BJP-Akali,” he said.
The possibility of Amarinder Singh stepping over to the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) is largely being ruled out on two counts. The first being the continuing anger among the public against the Akalis for initially supporting the three controversial farm laws and secondly the party does not have any space for anyone other than the Badal family at the helm.
But as Singh himself said in one of the interviews, politics is a fluid state where anything can happen.
Meanwhile there is a lot of anger among the grassroots workers of the Congress at the humiliation of their leader by the party high command. “He was abiding by every decision of the central leadership. They could have removed him by offering him a greater role in the organization at the centre instead of humiliating him like this. The party must remember that he is still a Raja for his supporters. Punjabis want to be ruled by grand personalities not jesters imposed upon them,” said a party worker from Patiala which is the home turf of both Singh and Sidhu.