The Congress seems to have its own deadlines. After a delayed announcement of candidates for the Punjab polls and racing against the clock to firefight rebels, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday announced its state chief Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial candidate.
The timing of the move, late in the day as it comes, is high on symbolism. Amarinder is taking on five-time CM Parkash Singh Badal in his bastion, Lambi. The Aam Aadmi Party too has pitched Jarnail Singh, the man in the reckoning for the top job, against the CM. When Amarinder has upped his stakes, Rahul too has done his bit — by making it clear that Captain would take the CM’s throne if the party comes trumps in the February 4 elections.
Also symbolic is Rahul choosing Majitha, the seat of Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia, to make the announcement. Majithia maintains the image of being invincible in Majha, where the Congress is eyeing its biggest gains after the entry of cricketerturned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu in poll fray.
Also, in an election which is turning out to be a clash of personalities, the Congress could have no longer shied away from taking a clear stand and kept things in suspended animation.
SAD president Sukhbir Badal is projecting his father and CM as the party’s face while the newbie AAP is seeking votes in the name of its supremo Arvind Kejriwal. The suspense on Congress CM face could have not only proved detrimental to Amarinder personally as he takes on Badal in Lambi but also for the party in the perception game .
‘MOVE TO SILENCE KEJRIWAL, SUKHBIR’
Congress leaders claim naming Amarinder as CM face would for once silence Kejriwal and Sukhbir who are trying to “mislead” voters by creating perception of “Amarinder-Sidhu rift”.
Party insiders say keeping the announcement pending till the very last was also part of a strategy to keep warring factions in the Congress opposed to Amarinder united. “Rahul was not too eager to announce a CM face this time round as the gambit had not worked the last time. In the 2012 polls too, he had announced Captain as party’s CM candidate in the last lap. Yet the Congress faced its second defeat in a row, also because of internal sabotage,” a senior party MLA said.
But Rahul seems to have finally heeded party’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s advice that stakes are higher for the Congress in Punjab than for Amarinder who has announced it to be his last poll outing. A loss to Kejriwal would plunge the Congress into a deeper identity crisis nationally.
Whether the move will give a push to Congress prospects remains to be seen but it will instantly boost Amarinder’s campaign. It will be Captain’s trial by fire to claim the CM’s throne and whether he wins it or not, he can silence critics within the party and outside that his last battle was the hardest.