His “inaccessibility” has cost the Congress two elections. So party poll strategist Prashant Kishor had fashioned his campaigns to ensure Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh was seen as “accessible” just like Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal who remains on the move holding sangat darshan programmes in assembly constituencies.
But Amarinder could cover just 34 constituencies under ‘Halke Vich Captain’ and a few more under ‘Coffee with Captain’ — where he sat on stage and interacted with youth, farmers and ex-servicemen. He started covering constituencies in whirlwind road shows after he resigned as Amritsar MP following Supreme Court’s ruling favouring Haryana in the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal row.
But that was November-end. Ever since the screening committee of the Congress started its meetings at New Delhi in December first week, the entire action is in New Delhi. At a time the top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), including its chief Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia, are touring Punjab, Amarinder and his office are virtually functioning from Delhi, leaving it to the candidates announced by the party to fend for themselves.
Amarinder attributes the party’s defeat in 2012 assembly polls under his command to the “kin and loyalists” list of senior party leaders splaying a spoiler. This time round, he wants his complete say in ticket distribution. But rumblings within the Congress are growing stronger that Amarinder has made tickets a bigger prestige battle than the polls itself by leaving the party ‘leaderless” at a time the state is heading to elections in less than four weeks.
‘PUTTING THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE’
“The Congress had declared that it would name candidates six months in advance. But 100 seats have been announced till Thursday and 17 still remain. The nominations end in six days from now. The Congress seems to have forgotten the lesson of the last election when it was left with no time to pacify party rebels. Nor has it woken up to the new reality — that unlike previous elections, this is no longer the only contender for anti-incumbency votes. It has a challenger in the AAP and a formidable one at that. The Congress cannot win the elections by losing the perception game. By making tickets more important than the election itself, it is putting the cart before the horse,” says a senior party MLA.
Amid the wrangling between senior leaders to ensure tickets to loyalists, Amarinder’s concerns are more urgent. The party has not named him the CM face despite the campaign and later the manifesto ringing in his name. With more CM contenders emerging in the background, from cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu to Manpreet Badal, Amarinder’s advisers are warning him of a Bhajan Lal like situation when the Congress dumped him by bringing in Bhupinder Singh Hooda after Haryana elections of 2005. If at all that happens, Amarinder will have to be ready with the plan inspired by another Congress CM, Virbhadra Singh — have enough loyalists as MLAs to ensure the numbers can “arm-twist” the high command into announcing him the CM.
It is anybody’s guess that Amarinder will storm back into the campaign scene once he has had his way and say in tickets. But his own party is wondering, can he recover the lost ground?