The Decimation of Punjab Congress
Recent developments in Punjab have precipitated to virtually spell the beginning of the end of the Congress in Punjab. The last few weeks have seen the resignation of veteran Congress leader and former Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, followed by the resignation of Navjot Sidhu as the President of the Pradesh Congress Committee. The Captain’s resignation was brought about by simmering tensions within the Punjab Congress for more than a year and a constant tussle of power between Mr. Sidhu – widely seen as an agent of the Gandhis or the Congress High Command – and the Captain.
The Captain was seen as independent of the young Gandhi siblings and had managed to establish the Congress supremacy in Punjab, despite a BJP wave in most other parts of the country. It was this independence that cost him. The Congress’s decision to replace him by Charanjeet Channi – a Dalit Sikh – is aimed squarely at the Punjab elections a few months later, as Dalit Sikhs form a sizeable vote-bank in Punjab. However, Congress’s mixed signals on whether Channi would be its CM candidate is already diluting the poll gimmick pulled by the party.
For now, Mr. Channi has disproved speculations that he can be manipulated easily by Mr. Sidhu, as seen clearly in Mr. Sidhu’s resignation due to his choices not being accommodated during Mr. Channi’s cabinet selections. While Channi and Sidhu may reach a temporary compromise, nothing that they do could take away from the mess that the Congress party finds itself in. The Captain’s decision to meet BJP’s Amit Shah shows that the former intends to fully fight back against his dramatic exit. He may join the BJP – which he has denied – or form a new party. His position towards BJP now hinges on whether some compromise can be reached on the Centre’s three farm laws.
The key implication of the Punjab saga will be the impact felt by Congress in other states where it is part of the government, such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. In Chhattisgarh, the situation is already looking tricky, as infighting proceeds between two rival camps within the Congress. Even in states where Congress is not in power – such as Kerala – it is diminishing.
Gujarat – Another Leadership Change
In contrast to Congress-ruled Punjab, Gujarat witnessed a smooth replacement of its entire leadership, including the Chief Minister. While Bhupendra Patel was made the new Chief Minister, the entire cabinet also saw a change in line with caste and regional representations, a year ahead of the Assembly elections. While the dominant influence was that of OBCs and Patidars, substantial space has also been given to tribals, Dalits and women, besides representation of upper castes. Regionally, the Saurashtra region has seen the most representation this time. None of the members of former Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani’s team were inducted.
The transition – firm and swift, yet smooth – is akin to the efficiency with which the change of guard was ensured in Karnataka. Due to a consolidated BJP leadership at the top, under Modi, such changes could be effected smoothly. In contrast, Congress states are witnessing frequent inner disputes.