Bathinda: Give Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh credit for gumption. The former chief minister had taken a gamble when he picked up the gauntlet thrown by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal who had dared him to hold a rally in Bathinda, the citadel of the Badal family.
The state Congress has been a fractured house for a long time, with its leaders indulging in name-calling in public and its cadre down in the dumps after a series of setbacks in the assembly and parliamentary elections. But the party managed a good turnout at the ‘coronation’ rally.
While political gatherings are no yardstick of a party’s popularity and demonstrate its organisational capabilities more than anything else, the most important message is one of unity. All party bigwigs were present and, more importantly, they spoke in one voice. The adrenalised former CM, who was at his aggressive best, also played the religion card unabashedly before reeling off populist promises that are traditionally made by political parties in poll manifestos.
The rally, through which the Congress has challenged the Badals in their own backyard, would serve as a booster dose for the party cadres, charging them up for the state polls in early 2017. It is also sure to set the alarm bells ringing in the rival parties. But the Congress would need to do more to take on the Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is emerging as a third player in the traditionally bipolar contest in the state.
The party leaders would all along have to maintain unity they showed at the rally, especially during the jockeying for tickets for the assembly elections. While public disaffection against the ruling party is running high, there is no room for complacency. “Lessons have been learnt from 2012. We are not going to repeat our mistakes,” said an aide of Amarinder.
Curiously, the PPCC chief and other party leaders completely ignored the AAP in their speeches, perhaps trying to show that they do not consider it a challenge. The AAP, a party born of the anti-corruption movement that saw spontaneous support in the Lok Sabha elections in the state, can only be ignored by the Congress at its own peril.
The newbie outfit, widely seen as the X-factor in Punjab, had upset the calculations of established mainstream parties in the Delhi assembly polls early this year. Also, though the third-time PPCC chief appears open to stitching up a “gathbandhan” (alliance) with like-minded parties, he didn’t speak a word on it at the rally.