Punjab elections 2017: Congress better boot up and start running

The delay by the Congress in naming its chief ministerial candidate and finalising candidates in many seats could cost the party dearly in the Punjab elections.

analysis Updated: Jan 14, 2017 09:22 IST
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, release the Congress manifesto for Punjab assembly elections, January 9, 2017.(Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

The Congress better put its act together fast in Punjab. For it has a lot of ground to cover in the key border state. Time’s short and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), its main contender for the anti-incumbency vote is making good use of its first-mover advantage.

The AAP was the first party to announce candidates for the 112 seats it is contesting in the state assembly, having left the remaining five to the Lok Insaf Party of the Ludhiana-based Bains brothers. The Akali Dal-BJP combine are through as well with their choice of candidates.

That makes the Congress the prime laggard. The party hasn’t fielded nominees for over a dozen seats even ten days after the January 4 announcement of the poll schedule. “They better hurry up to get their infantry in place. Or else it’ll be a repeat of 2012,” said a party veteran.

The Congress’s campaign has indeed floundered in recent weeks with Amarinder Singh captive in Delhi over ticket disputes while the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal electioneered at a frenzied pace. For the party to remain in contest, its campaign needs a booster doze to pick up pace -- and capture popular imagination.

Now what could that be: Navjot Singh Sidhu ends months of suspense, joins the party? Sonia Gandhi and Rahul formally endorse Amarinder as the party’s chief ministerial candidate?

A puzzle really it is that how a party with pretentions to power in the state could be so nonchalant on the leadership question and timely candidatures. In many ways, it’s akin to joining the battle without a general and full strength of foot-soldiers.

It is well known that Amarinder has a mind of his own. About time the Congress’s central leadership realised that he also has connect of his own-- beyond the party appeal—with the Punjab electorate. Ask a diehard Congress voter as to which side he was and he’d invariably say: “Captain naal …..”

Barring certain leaders who have a personal rapport with their constituents, Amarinder is the Congress’s foremost calling card in the state. A delay in his projection as the CM candidate would hurt the party’s campaign in what many see as a repeat of the 2012 poll mistake.

The sooner it’s done the better it would be. The Captain, so to speak, should be named the general while he kick-starts the second phase of his electioneering with a visit on January 15 to Mehraj, his ancestral village in Bhatinda.

If Sidhu stops playing hard to get ---and coincides his arrival with the Captain’s designation--- it will add ammunition to the party’s poll fire. That wouldn’t be short of a miracle, and the Congress needs a miracle!

First Published: Jan 14, 2017 09:19 IST