At a time when the party’s first campaign, Coffee with Captain, was trying to find its feet, it has not helped matters that Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh embarked on a tour of North America.
The outing has created more controversy than goodwill for the party among the Punjabi diaspora and back home. Amarinder had to cancel his trip to Canada after facing a legal suit from activist group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). He held just one programme at Chicago during his extended stay and with a handful of Canadian NRIs on Skype; his programme at Los Angeles also did not pull a big crowd.
The protests may be orchestrated, as Amarinder says, but there are clear rumblings within the Congress that the timing of the tour was ill-advised and neither the jumbo team of loyalists accompanying him preempted SFJ’s bid to sabotage his programmes nor could it outwit them.
Even party’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor is learnt not to be convinced by the influence Punjabi NRIs have on poll verdict. He believes NRIs from Kerala and Gujarat make much larger force but political leaders from these states do not tour other countries to woo them.
“At best, these foreign tours are a good holiday for politicians or fund-raising outings. They may create some chatter on social media but that does not decide the vote outcome,” Congress sources said.
But it is not support of NRIs or lack of it that is worrying Congress but the verdict on the state polls on May 19. The party’s further downslide may hit its poll prospects and it seems to be bracing up for the worst.
“We may have to start from zero after the poll verdict is out on May 19. The whole country may talk about the Congress being wiped out even from the states. But our campaign will take off after we hit rock bottom,” a senior Congress leader said.
Reasoning that impact of NRIs is overrated in Punjab polls, Kishor had advised Amarinder against taking the North America tour. But since it could not be cancelled, he is learnt to have asked Captain to cut it down by a few days and the latter had agreed to curtail it to three weeks.
Show-time from June
According to Congress insiders, Kishor’s job starts from June after the May 19 verdict.
“In the past two months, Kishor was trying to understand the team dynamics in Punjab Congress and what could be done. From June, the Congress will go full-throttle in Punjab by roping in both its central and state leadership. The Aam Aadmi Party’s ‘Punjab Jodo’ campaign has fizzled out. Its ‘Punjab Dialogue’ campaign will also fizzle out when the Congress launches its countercampaign to engage people in deciding Punjab’s agenda,” party sources said.
Like in Bihar, his team, IPAC, is now moving to assembly segments and liaising with district and block-level Congress committees.
A core team of IPAC is coordinating with the Congress office in Chandigarh and their own teams in the assembly constituencies.
The political discourse in Punjab started way too early. The Congress challenge is to ensure it peaks at the right time so that it could be sustained.