The Captain has been forcibly retired in a putsch that surprised many. But Amarinder Singh, now a former Chief Minister of Punjab, was not torpedoed by a wily BJP or the power-obsessed Shrimoni Akali Dal. He was outwitted by his own Indian National Congress Party. If ever the doctrine that politics is the art of the possible applies, Punjab will be a shining example of it . A few months ago, no one would have contemplated that the 80-year-old army veteran would be so unceremoniously dumped. Elections in Punjab are due within six months.
That is why they say in politics your best friend is usually your dog. The Congress has spun the narrative that the newly-appointed CM Charanjit Singh Channi is the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab. Suddenly, everyone is woken up to the harsh reality of Dalit disenfranchisement ( they are a staggering 32% of Punjab’s population). It is astounding how political parties attain enlightenment about social marginalization just before the ballot box (or now the EVM) comes to a closer proximity. If the Congress were to capitalize on the Dalit card, it will be publicized as an electoral masterstroke, but the fact is that these are early days. Also, it is a synthetic assessment. On the flip side, will the Jat Sikhs not feel shortchanged? Such castepermutations and combinations, charitably described by the punditry class as social-engineering, are usually a zero-sum game. A gain somewhere is neutralized by a loss elsewhere. The truth is that Channi is a by-product of political expediency, period. The man who wanted to be king, Navjyot Singh Sidhu, India’s perennial motormouth on steroids, now finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If the Congress in Punjab has appeared to be in an Alice in Wonderland daze, it is Sidhu who must be given accolades for his inspired chaos of what was once calm waters and smooth sailing for the Congress in Punjab. But perhaps most unintentionally, the Congress’s new arrangement has ended up grid locking the former stroke-less wonder, tying him up in an intricate knot. Here is how.
The captain has been publicly disgraced at Sidhu’s behest by the Congress leadership. A few weeks ago, the party’s interlocutor Harish Rawat, who should be in Uttarakhand actually, said in no unambiguous terms that the captain would be Congress’ principal campaigner in the forthcoming elections. So what changed so dramatically? For one, it appears that Sidhu deliberately provoked Singh with his continuous barrage of nasty comments, fully aware that the former army veteran would find the fusillade insufferably hard to bear. The reaction came as expected. When two of Sidhu’s lieutenants, Balwinder Singh Mali and Pyarelal Garg, posted controversial comments on Facebook regarding Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan, the captain’s team pounced on them, labelling them seditious and betrayers. An apology was promptly demanded. The BJP appropriately amplified Congress’ compromised stance on national security to Big Media. All hell broke loose. The internecine fight was getting uglier. Even then it was not too late for the Congress leadership to douse the raging fires. But instead they encouraged further dissensions. They were fermenting fisticuffs. At some point the cookie had to crumble. It came on the subject of the renovation of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial museum by the NDA government.
Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi joined several historians and media critics who lambasted the government for the egregious grotesqueness of the memorial of the 1919 massacre, that some aptly called the disneyfication of the brutal bloodbath in the holy city of Amritsar. But captain Amarinder Singh dismissed the criticism with causal nonchalance, noting that it was kosher by him. Knowing the Congress, they took it as a public affront of Rahul that deserved immediate comeuppance. I suspected that the captain would soon be a victim of a well-orchestrated palace intrigue. In calling for the legislature meeting without even informing the CM the political messaging was clear; Singh was being told that forget being king, he was now being thrown under the bus. In the Congress, which still loves to be subservient and subjugated to the Gandhi family, any criticism of them can have dire consequences. Singh’s time was up. But the Congress has probably just opened a Pandora’s box.
Sidhu as the state president must now demonstrate his political nous or become a ridiculed figure in the political ecosystem. With the captain determined to brand him as a Pakistan sympathizer and an anti-national apostate, Sidhu has an uphill task ahead. The chickens have come home to roost. Worse, there is no guarantee that Chinni will quietly abdicate his throne should the Congress win, which effectively stumps Sidhu’s ambitions. Expect entertaining fireworks post the election results. The former cricketer could have the unique distinction of being both run out and LBW at the same time, a double whammy. As for the Congress, instead of having an assured triumph in Punjab giving them substantial time to focus on Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and UP, they will have to ensure at least a face-saving hung assembly in Punjab. A defeat for the Congress (AAP is apparently ahead in the opinion polls) could have serious repercussions for the Congress all over the country.
And they will have themselves to blame. Not their former captain, but maybe the current one.
The author is former spokesperson of the Congress party
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