Move to convene CLP confirmed Cong leadership’s loss of trust in Captain
This might be an instance of the fifth chief minister losing his job (across four states), but the Congress central leadership hasn’t covered itself with glory in securing the scalp of a chief minister of Amarinder Singh’s stature and seniority in Punjab. The party might have retained its legislative strength in the assembly. But in popular perception, it has slid notches down the totem pole.
Nobody can aspire to be chief minister for life and the Captain, now 79, had a nine-and-a-half year stint over two terms. It has been clear for some time that he no longer enjoys the confidence and support of the Gandhis but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the manner in which the All India Congress Committee (AICC) blindsided him while summoning the meeting of the legislature party in Chandigarh.
The signal inherent to the move was loud and clear. He was kept out of the loop to deny him time to marshal support among MLAs. It was the unkindest of the many cuts he thought the party inflicted on him in his slugfest with Navjot Sidhu, who was anointed the Congress’s state unit chief against his advice.
The midnight move to convene the CLP was a sort of coup that confirmed the leadership’s loss of trust in the CM. By all available indications, he became a persona non grata in the leadership’s scheme of things. It was for that reason that he drove down to the Raj Bhawan to submit his resignation rather than showing up and getting shamed at the CLP of which he was the leader.
To avoid any rival show of strength, the AICC’s instructions to the MLAs were to reach the party office for the CLP meet with no pit stops along the way. The message clearly was to not turn up at the meeting the CM had reportedly convened at his farmhouse.
Yet, over two dozen legislators besides ministers and party MPs met Singh before his call on the Governor to put in his papers. While bidding adieu, he asked them to attend the CLP meeting, which they did. That accounted perhaps for the attendance of 78 of the 80 MLAs at the gathering that authorised Congress president Sonia Gandhi to choose his successor.
Deferential as always to Gandhi, the Captain did mention that he felt “humiliated” by the inquisitions he faced in Delhi in recent weeks. That he was kept in the dark about today’s CLP meet added insult to injury.
Amid the internal party turmoil that often spilled in the open, Singh had been telling his friends and advisors that he was reconciled to “hanging his gloves” if the leadership so desired. Pointing to portraits adorning his study in his farmhouse, he’d say: “Having had a wholesome five decades in public life, I’ve no regrets and a lot to look back with satisfaction.”
Upset though he was at the treatment meted out to him, the Captain never badmouthed the Gandhi family, having fond memories of his friendship with the late Rajiv Gandhi. “I’d never turn against Sonia or her children who call me uncle,” he once told this writer, indulgently showing the messages he exchanged with Priyanka on the exquisite varieties of plants and flowers at his sprawling farmhouse. “She’s very prompt with her replies....”
That leaves one wondering about the communication breakdown that led to the sad denouement. Even if his popularity had slipped among a section of legislators and people on account of his work style or lack of progress on certain issues, the problem was resolvable. The impression that he has been sacrificed to mollycoddle Sidhu, his principal detractor, could queer the pitch for the party. The leadership will do well not to name him the CM, at least in the interregnum before the assembly polls.
To cool tempers down, the new CM should be unattached to either factions.