He may have won the battle against outgoing Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa by reclaiming his throne, but the road ahead for new state party chief Captain Amarinder Singh is far more daunting than his previous stints. On him lies the responsibility of scripting a rebound of not just the Congress in Punjab but nationally too.
That the 2017 Punjab polls are critical for Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, is clear from the Captain’s return to the top job while risking being seen as vulnerable to “pressure tactics” of popular state satraps. The party, which has been pushed to the margins in many states and touched its lowest tally of 44 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has reposed faith in him, hoping for a turnaround at the national level.
The stakes for the former CM are like never before. And therein lies Amarinder’s biggest challenge. He has got what he wanted but he has to deliver now. He has to galvanise the party cadre demoralised by two back-to-back poll defeats in the state elections and a below-par performance in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The two-and-a-half-year-long factionalism has eroded its credibility among voters as an alternative to the ruling Akali-BJP alliance. But by far the biggest challenge for him would be to outwit the new contender for anti-incumbency votes on the block the Aam Aadmi Party which has announced Punjab as its next stop.
For doing that, he has to put in place a cohesive election machine by taking various factions and senior leaders along. Bad blood still runs deep in the state unit after the second consecutive defeat at the hustings. Since the Congress has bet heavily on Amarinder a third time to win an election, he will also have to overcome the drawback of not being a vigorous campaigner, even as both age and health may come in his way.
Keeping the tempo up till the 2017 polls will also be among his many challenges, so will be the task of negotiating his way through a minefield of allegations, including the looming cases of Amritsar Improvement Trust and Ludhiana City Centre scam. A ticking time bomb would also be the accusations of purported Swiss accounts of his wife, Patiala MLA Preneet Kaur, and son Raninder Singh. He may also have to do away with the “coterie culture”, which is blamed for his inaccessibility.
But in the challenges also lies the opportunity for Amarinder to hit the ground running by making the most of the seething anger among farmers and Panthic groups against the Akali-BJP combine and cash in on the overall anti-government sentiment. It is also his last chance to redeem himself in state politics and go down a winner after presiding over two consecutive poll drubbings of the party in the Punjab elections.
Captain seen to be a strong protagonist for Punjab’s interests
Shrewdly identifies with Sikh issues and cuts into Panthic vote bank of Akalis
credentials to take them on
Coterie culture, inaccessible
Not a vigorous campaigner; health and age too may
come in the way of
Bad blood runs deep in Congress factions; ensuring unity a challenge
Favourable ground to cash in on anti-Badal sentiment
prevailing in Punjab
Last chance to redeem
himself in state politics
Decimate AAP, which is yet to have leader of his stature in Punjab
Court cases in Punjab: Amritsar Improvement Trust and Ludhiana City Centre scam
Alleged Swiss bank accounts of wife and son under purview of Arun Jaitley-led finance ministry
Internal sabotage during polls