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Battle of Sardars: Fear of Pilot-like Episode Sends Shivers in Cong Amid Amarinder-Sidhu Tussle Before Polls

File photos of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

File photos of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

The Congress party’s inability to settle differences between the two leaders in the election year is a big dampener.

With less than a year to go for the assembly elections, the Punjab Congress is caught in an internal battle. Senior leader Rahul Gandhi had a closed-door meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu, who have had their fair share of differences in public. After the meeting, it seemed all was well, at least for some time. But the truce did not last long. Knives are out again, and the Cabinet reshuffle to accommodate Sidhu has yet to take place.

For his part, Sidhu is missing no chance to take a pot shot at the CM. The main issue that he has taken up is the emotive one of the Kotkapura firing. Sidhu has shared a 2016 video of the CM promising to send the Badals to jail for the incident, even as he alleged that Amarinder was now shielding the Badals. “Big boast, small roast”, his tweet said. Sidhu has also accused the CM, who also holds the home ministry, of being responsible for a shoddy and slow probe.

But the problem for the CM does not end here. Around 20 Punjab MLAs, who are believed to have been miffed with Amarinder, have approached the high command. The result was the setting up of a three-member committee comprising Mallikarjun Kharge, JP Agarwal and state-in-charge Harish Rawat. The committee will be meeting the disgruntled MLAs. What is believed to have upset the CM is the fact that he was not informed about the formation of this committee.

The Congress leadership’s handling of the crisis in Punjab epitomises the malaise and decay within the party. There is no second rung of leadership in Punjab. The Congress is well aware that the CM has no love lost for Sidhu, who is believed to have the support of the Gandhis. Months ahead of the state polls, the committee could send out a message that Amarinder is on his own. In the last state polls too, Amarinder had to build pressure on the top leadership to declare him the CM face.

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Now, the composition of the crisis management committee is evidence enough that the Congress top leadership faces another tough job in handling the situation. Mallikarjun Kharge, as Maharashtra in-charge, was unable to manage a rebellion within the state Congress. Both JP Agarwal and Harish Rawat may not have ears to the ground in the complex Punjab politics.

Veteran journalist Pankaj Vohra said: “The Congress high command is weighing its options and has constituted a committee. It is not impressed with the Captain’s (Amarinder Singh’s) style of functioning and wants to foist its nominee as the PCC chief.”

But this could prove to be a dampener as far as polls in the state are concerned. Despite controversies there is no local leader in the state who could possibly rival the popularity of Amarinder.

The Congress is now acrimonious on the issue of Covid-19 with both Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi taking on the government and the Prime Minister over what they call mismanagement in handling the pandemic. But it’s not clear whether this will help bolster demoralised party workers. In state after state, the Congress organisation is in a shambles. The Congress is unable to replicate the fire it shows on the social media space in the real battlefield.

Not too far away from Punjab is Rajasthan, where it’s almost a year since the rebellion of Sachin Pilot and his team. The promised Cabinet reshuffle has yet to take place there too. MLAs close to Pilot have begun to be restless, and one has already resigned from the Assembly.

Pankaj Vohra said: “Yes. The party has lost the fire in the belly. The objective needs to be set. The right people for the right job need to be identified.”

That hasn’t happened yet. The Congress is an ageing party; it has to go for a complete image makeover. Many young people are waiting in the wings to occupy centre stage.

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first published:May 29, 2021, 17:20 IST