Chandigarh: Amarinder Singh, the “people’s Maharaja”, always had a mystical charm that drew hordes of Punjabis towards him. For them he signified a politician who could take decisions on his own, even if it meant going against the wishes of the Congress high command, or treat as roughly leaders of other political parties as they treated him.
That is till the farmers’ stir over the contentions farm laws portrayed him as a silent spectator while mobile towers belonging to a particular service provider were vandalised and retail outlets forced to down shutters. The appointment of “outsider” Navjot Singh Sidhu as the state Congress president only added to his woes.
Since the last two years, many party legislators had been airing their grievances on Amarinder’s style of functioning, some publicly. The chorus, which initially began as demands by legislators to rein in officers who were causing hindrances over development projects in their constituencies, grew into open calls for change in leadership.
Congress sources, who were once close to Amarinder, whisper his handling of the farmers’ stir and favorites among ministers and legislators getting the bulk of development projects sanctioned in their constituencies, led to his downfall in the party. Pictures circulating on Whatsapp on his lavish parties at his farmhouse, too, proved to be unnerving for many partymen.
“Stagnant water starts emitting a foul smell. Too much power was vested on officers who had begun treating the people’s representative shabbily. Even ministers were made to seek appointments with officers to get their work done. Legislators and party workers were treated like dirt. Only a handful had direct access to Amarinder. While it will be a difficult task for any new leader to take the party to victory in the assembly polls next year, there was no other way left for the high command but to replace him and pave the way for a younger and new face way ,” explained Rajpal singh, a former party general secretary.
Even before Sidhu was appointed Congress president, Amarinder had since the last few weeks, been sending feelers to the agitating farmers’ unions in the state to end their agitation, given that the Narendra Modi government was ready to guarantee continuation of minimum support price and make amendments in the laws to address other concerns of the farmers. There were, however, no takers for his argument that the two corporate houses that the farmers’ unions had targeted for dharnas actually were small players in the state.
There was a time when Amarinder was decisive. In 1984, he quit the Congress over Operation Blue Star and for 14 years kept away from the party, despite enjoying a close relationship with the Gandhi family. Not to forget taking on Khalistani militants in their own territory in Canada.
Before the 2017 assembly election, when Rahul Gandhi was toying with the idea of projecting a different leader as the chief ministerial candidate, he put his foot down, held parleys with Arun Jaitley over a deal with the BJP, and forced the Congress high command to back off.
Will the tough Amarinder get going once again in an avatar different from the Congress in the assembly election, only time will tell. Till then Congressmen in Punjab will live on tenterhooks.
“There is nobody with the charisma of Amarinder in Punjab even at his ripe age. He enjoys the adulation of the young and old alike. Anyone stepping in his shoes will find the path full of thorns. Many reared by Amarinder himself,” a Congress leader surmised.
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