Party Messed Up, Lament Congress Workers in Punjab
“In the entire run up to the polls our party was on a suicidal path,” lamented a Congress worker after the voting for the state assembly elections ended in Punjab.
What he said is reflective of this being an election campaign where the Congress presented a textbook case of how to squander an electoral advantage and demonstrate how polls are not to be fought.
Party workers point out that the situation for the Congress would have been better even under former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and with the entire anti-incumbency factor weighed against them.
A great deal has been written about the Congress decision to bring in Navjot Singh Sidhu as party state chief, the unceremonious exit of Amarinder Singh, and the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister just six months before the elections. Congress workers said that no effort was made to present Sidhu and Amarinder Singh as a formidable force.
One can start right from the top. Sources told this reporter that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi should have kept away from allegations against the Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal having connections with a former militant. Was Rahul Gandhi not aware that such a narrative could be counterproductive in Punjab? They say he would have done better to oppose AAP and Kejriwal on issues of governance.
The second factor pointed to by party sources was the resignation of a senior and respected leader of the Congress, Sunil Jakhar. Throughout the campaign the Congress was dogged by the leadership’s decision not to replace Amarinder Singh with Jakhar as chief minister. A reported statement of senior Congress leader Ambika Soni who had declined the post, that a Hindu cannot become the chief minister of Punjab, also took a toll. This, the sources said, had impacted on the votes. More so as Jakhar, in interviews, minced no words in criticizing Soni for these remarks.
Party workers pointed also to the disappearance of the star campaigners listed by the party from the field. Very few of them were found on the job. The most visible of course were Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. To make matters worse, the name of local Congress leader Manish Tiwari, a prominent Hindu face and Lok Sabha member from Anandpur Sahib, was missing from the list of star campaigners.
As if all this was not enough, there came the highly controversial ‘bhaiyya’ controversy from none other than Channi when he asked Punjabis to reject those coming from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The comment came in the presence of Priyanka Gandhi with all the potential of hitting the party’s already meagre prospects in Uttar Pradesh. The CM later came out clarifying that his comment was aimed at the political leadership from outside the state and not the migrants, but where was the need in the first place to make such a statement?
But it is Sidhu who landed some heavy punches on the Congress prospects. Not being announced as the chief ministerial face, he took to sulking and did not move as much outside his own constituency of Amritsar (East) as his party would have liked to use his oratorical skills.
Sidhu was locked in the biggest and a very high stakes battle with Shiromani Akali Dal heavyweight Bikram Singh Majithia. He left party supporters perplexed when he twice decided to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu at the height of the campaign. Then he put the party and its leadership in an embarrassing position by refusing to address a rally in Dhuri in the presence of Priyanka Gandhi.
It was a clear case of throwing a tantrum: on being invited to address the people he just stood up and gestured with his hands that he would not speak, motioning towards Channi to indicate that he would be the next speaker.
Meanwhile his wife Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu kept on coming out with statements that kept the party workers on tenterhooks. She would say that Sidhu was the apt choice to be the chief ministerial face of the party, or that she would go back to her medical profession if things did not work out in politics.
The Congress ‘tamasha’ as the workers put it was not confined to just one corner. In Patiala, the party’s parliamentarian Preneet Kaur could be seen campaigning for her husband Captain Amarinder Singh who had allied with the BJP. She was parroting the BJP’s political narrative and holding meetings much to the embarrassment of party workers and leaders. It remains to be seen what action her party takes against her. Will it dare throw her out? is a question party workers want answered.
Also on display was the Congress tradition of having rebels stand against the official candidates. Topping the list was Channi’s brother Dr Manohar Singh, who contested as an independent on the Bassi Pathana seat.
Sources said that there were at least half a dozen kith and kin of Congress leaders including ministers contesting against the party’s own candidates. Party infighting was also reported from several constituencies dampening the winning prospects of the official candidates.
Several Congress workers known personally to this reporter were peeved at the leaders, many of them pretty senior, for coming from other states to campaign without doing their homework. Said a party worker in Malwa:
“We had a senior leader coming from Rajasthan who wanted to address the Thakur electorate. He clearly had no inkling about Punjab’s demography. Then there was a gentleman from Delhi who landed on the second last day of the campaign with a roadmap to counter Kejriwal’s well sold Delhi Model. Couldn’t he have come 15 days earlier?”
The morale of the workers is low and they are not very optimistic of the poll outcome. They are dejected at having messed up an opportunity to repeat the government. They say that Punjab is one state that offered a window for the party’s revival at the national level. Many feel that there will be an implosion in the party’s state unit if it doesn’t make a decent showing.