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Congress to Pick Punjab CM Face: Rahul May Bite the Bullet, But Will it Stop 'Friendly Fire' in Party?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and party's state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu during the 'Navi Soch Nava Punjab' virtual rally on Thursday, January 27, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and party's state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu during the 'Navi Soch Nava Punjab' virtual rally on Thursday, January 27, 2022. (PTI Photo)

The reason why the Congress was avoiding the decision is that the party is seeing massive infighting.

So finally the Congress is left with no option but to announce a chief ministerial face for the Punjab elections. Rahul Gandhi, after a day-long meeting in Amritsar and Jalandhar, tweeted to confirm this.

The reason is simple. Punjab has a pattern of contesting elections under a CM face. And with even the Aam Aadmi Party being forced to name a pick, the Congress cannot be different. In fact, in 2017, it was just a few days before the polls that Captain Amarinder Singh forced the hand of Rahul Gandhi to name him as the party’s choice.

The reason why the Congress was avoiding it this time is that the party is seeing massive infighting. Also, having flaunted Charanjit Singh Channi as a Dalit face, replacing him with someone else could invite accusations of having used the caste card. If Channi is replaced, the worry is also that it could hurt the party’s Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh, well as Karnataka where polls are close.

But then Navjot Singh Sidhu was made the state unit chief with the assurance that at some point he would be the chief minister. He has the support of the Gandhi siblings. He has, for the sake of the fulfillment of poll promises of the Congress, even taken on his own party. While this may not go down well with his colleagues, it has with the voters. This could also dilute some of the anger the Congress faces for the non-fulfillment of promises on drugs and sacrilege cases.

The Congress hopes that if Sidhu is made the face, it could help win over not just Jat Sikhs but also Hindu votes. If he is picked then Channi could be made the party’s state unit president later.

However, it’s not going to be easy. Which is why the party will discuss with the MLAs who should be the chief ministerial choice. Sources say Rahul is expected to go back to Punjab in a week and he may announce the CM face at a rally.

The fact that the Akalis have put up Bikram Majithia as a candidate against Sidhu could give the latter the edge to play the game on the drugs issue.

It’s also true that whenever the Congress has shied away from naming a CM candidate, it has hurt its chances. Like in the last Haryana polls where it tried to play safe by not projecting Bhupinder Hooda. This time it may have to.

Sources say Rahul Gandhi feels that if he bites the bullet and names a Punjab CM face, it may put an end to the many claimants trying to pull each other down. In 2017 too, the Congress was facing internal dissent with Pratap Bajwa and a few others like him against the Captain. But the moment Amarinder Singh was named, everyone seemed to fall in line. Rahul Gandhi hopes for a repeat this time. But it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the face would keep the flock together.

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