The Congress picked former chief minister Amarinder Singh on Friday to lead the party in Punjab, a move aimed at ending a prolonged leadership logjam and seal deep divisions in the ranks that could impede its bid to win the 2017 assembly election.
State unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa bowed out and several leaders got key posts as part of a revamp that bears the stamp of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, insiders said.
The move is expected to end intense factionalism raging in the Punjab Congress that hit the party’s fortunes in the 2014 general elections when it managed to win just three of the state’s 13 Lok Sabha seats, down from eight in the previous polls.
Singh was one of the few winners, defeating the BJP’s Arun Jaitley in Amritsar even as the Congress was routed across the country, and was appointed the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha.
While projecting a Jat Sikh in Singh as the party’s face, the Congress has also tried to woo the Dalits and Hindus using a social engineering formula.
With an eye on the assembly polls, Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni has been appointed the campaign committee chief while MLA Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste, will be her deputy.
Amarinder Singh is seen as the best bet for the Congress poll strategy against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance that has been embroiled in a controversy over the desecration of the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib.
A spate of violent protests has swept the state, with radical groups blocking roads and clashing with security forces, targeting chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and the ruling SAD. But with the Congress riven by dissent, the rookie Aam Aadmi Party is looking to cash in during the election.
The AAP had also taken away a huge chunk of anti-incumbency votes in the Lok Sabha polls to win four seats.
Analysts say the former chief minister worked his way to the state Congress chief’s post through a relentless onslaught on Bajwa by openly seeking his removal and challenging his authority through parallel shows of strength. Rahul, who named Singh the CM candidate in the run-up to the 2012 election, was not willing to pass the baton back to him after two consecutive poll drubbings under his watch.
But realpolitik prevailed after Singh upped the ante by questioning the Amethi MP’s leadership and even hinted at breaking away from the party.