The announcement of three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as the Congress chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh led to both hope and despair in the party circles in Punjab, depending on which side of the fence they are.
Awaiting a similar announcement for Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh, his detractors within the party dubbed it as a snub to the former CM, while Amarinder himself said Punjab could be next after UP.
Though party strategist Prashant Kishor is learnt to be keen on the early announcement of Amarinder’s name as the CM candidate, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has steered clear of it during his last two Punjab visits in April and June. According to Amarinder, the party is first focusing on UP, which he said, is five times larger than Punjab.
“First Raj Babbar was named as state party president, followed by Sanjay Singh as head of the campaign committee, and now Sheila Dikshit. After UP, they will take up Punjab. We are pitted against regional parties and to deal with their onslaught, we have to announce a CM candidate. If we don’t, we can’t compete with them. So an announcement of the CM face for Punjab will be made in due course of time,” he said.
However, many in the party believe that unlike UP, where the Congress has to revive itself, in Punjab it is a force to reckon with. “We are the main opposition party in Punjab, with a vote share of 40.9% in the 2012 state elections, which was more than the Akali-BJP combined. The Congress has to be seen shaking up UP in a big way to come back into its mainstream politics after being relegated to the fourth slot. In Punjab, it has to just put its house in order,” a senior party leader said.
But there are others who feel the Congress is wanting to keep all warring factions at bay by delaying the announcement. “All senior party leaders in Punjab eyeing the CM’s chair are now working together. The suspense on the CM face will keep the party united. This momentum could be derailed if Amarinder’s name is announced,” party insiders said.
But the Congress, which is building Brand Amarinder like never before through Kishor’s ‘Coffee with Captain’ and ‘Halke Vich Captain’ programmes, cannot deny Amarinder the announcement any longer after naming Dikshit. “Rahul just wants to show Amarinder who is the boss. Amarinder, too, had flexed his muscles recently by revealing in a television interview that he had plans to quit the Congress. But they both know it will have to be done in due course of time, or the entire campaign to corner the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) on its CM face or projecting Amarinder’s government as better than the SAD-BJP’s will fall flat,” said a source.