The Congress in Punjab
Imposing a power-sharing formula, despite chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s concerns, is a risky strategy
To resolve the impasse in the Punjab Congress, where there was an outright battle between the chief minister (CM), Captain Amarinder Singh, and cricketer-turned-satirist-turned-Bharatiya Janata Party leader-turned-Congress minister-turned rebel, Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Congress high command has implemented a power-sharing formula. Mr Singh will remain the party’s face for the state assembly elections while Mr Sidhu has been appointed the state unit chief. Whether this formula cements party unity, paves the way for a smooth generational transition, and improves electoral prospects, or adds to internal factionalism, erodes its prospects, and even creates conditions for a splinter is the key question — and the answer to that question will determine more than just Punjab politics.
The Congress high command is pleased at what it thinks is a reasonable solution and establishes the authority of the Gandhi family, for it is an open secret that Mr Sidhu’s sources of strength were Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The CM is upset at the manner in which he has been treated, and now forced to deal with a state chief he doesn’t particularly like, despite having won the state elections and subsequent local elections over the past five years. Mr Sidhu is happy that he has been able to take on the CM and get away with it, becoming the chief of a party he joined four years age as a step towards his ambition of becoming CM. The rest of the Opposition in the state suddenly sees an opportunity due to the infighting in the ruling party. And the rest of the Congress rank and file is observing closely how the battle between the Delhi leadership and a regional satrap plays out.
But while the implications will only become clear over time, the manner in which the Congress has dealt with Punjab, the one state in north India it is in power, may be a lesson on what not do. It has alienated a successful CM, primarily because he was autonomous, though, to be sure, questions were being raised on the CM’s governance. It made a public spectacle of internal differences. It imposed a formula which is laced with risks of infighting ahead of and during next year’s polls — which will be tested in the ticket distribution exercise. The outcome in Punjab may determine the power balance between Delhi leadership and regional units of the party.