Congress’s plan to elevate Navjot Singh Sidhu, 57, is viewed as a ‘generational shift’ being attempted by the party high command, with the incumbent Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to turn 80 by the time Punjab election results come in March 2022.
But in Punjab, having a super senior as chief minister is not new for the public. Parkash Singh Badal became the chief minister in 2007 for the fourth time at 79, the same age as Singh now. Badal went ahead to serve another term as CM in 2012 at 84 and finally bowed out of power at the age of 89 as the oldest chief minister in the country. This time, Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral says it will fight with party president Sukhbir Badal, 59, as its CM face while senior Badal, 93, who is in frail health, will remain the party’s patron.
A state minister close to Singh said the CM is far fitter than his age, sharp as always, and the most aggressive against the Badals. Captain’s detractors however say the party wants to elevate Sidhu as at 59, he can square up better with Sukhbir Badal who will be leading the campaign from the Akali side. “Even the Akali Dal has gone in for a generational change. Sukhbir Badal was the Deputy CM from 2009-2017 and is the party president since 13 years,” another state minister pointed out to News18.
Age-Limit a Modi Sarkar Concept
Retiring senior politicians at 75 is a concept introduced in the Narendra Modi-led BJP with seniors like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi being sent to the Margdarshak Mandal of the party in 2014. In fact, in the present Council of Ministers after the recent reshuffle, there is no minister now above 70 years of age. The most aged chief minister in the country after Amarinder Singh, BS Yediyurappa, is 78 and faces the prospect of being changed as the chief minister in Karnataka for a younger face.
Since 2014, BJP has also gone for young and first-time chief ministers in Uttar Pradesh with Yogi Adityanath (49), Biplab Kumar Deb (49) in Tripura, Pramod Sawant (48) in Goa, Jai Ram Thakur (56) in Himachal Pradesh and the youngest CM in the country with Pushkar Singh Dhami (45) in Uttarakhand. “Appointing young CMs and giving bigger responsibilities to young ministers brings fresh energy and novel ideas to the table. A generational shift is imperative,” a Union Minister told News18.
Congress Conservative So Far
The Congress, however, has been conservative in this regard, much in line with its ‘Grand Old Party’ image. It went for Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister in Madhya Pradesh (74) in 2019 against the claim of a much younger Jyotiraditya Scindia (50) and for Ashok Gehlot (70) instead of 43-year-old Sachin Pilot. Scindia finally left the party last year to join the BJP, bringing down the Kamal Nath government, while Pilot’s grievances remain unsolved even after his rebellion last year and divested of his charge as Deputy CM.
That explains why the Captain Amarinder Singh camp is confident that Sidhu may not stand a chance to challenge him to the CM’s chair if the party manages to win in Punjab in 2022; also because of Singh’s old equation with Sonia Gandhi. But if Sidhu succeeds in this ambition in the years to come, with the push from his chief backer in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, it will mark a new turn for the Congress going the BJP way of going in for a generational change.