Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh and Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath
Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh and Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath

The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: Amarinder and Adityanath

  • In this week's The Taste, Vir Sanghvi writes, "Two chief ministers, two explosions of dissidence and two different kinds of responses from Delhi."
By Vir Sanghvi, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 02, 2021 02:37 PM IST

The problems faced by Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath and Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh over the last few weeks should remind us that the conventional wisdom on dissidence is wrong.

The standard view of dissidence is that it breaks out when a government is in trouble. Agitated Members of Parliament (MPs), fearful about their party’s prospects, raise the banner of revolt in a last-ditch effort to save the party from defeat or a downfall of some kind.

In fact, the opposite is often true. And with Adityanath and especially, Amarinder Singh, the dissidence is not a response to any impending defeat.

It is a response to a possible victory.

Let’s take the case of Yogi Adityanath first. I don’t think anybody seriously disputes that he is unpopular with many of his Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). He is also unpopular with sections of the electorate in UP.

But, equally, it is by no means clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is headed for defeat in the assembly elections that are due in some months. The psephological break-up of UP over the last few years has been clear. The BJP has around 40% of the vote. Akhilesh and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have 20%. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has 20% as well. The Congress has around 10%. And the rest goes to smaller parties. While the BJP vote is relatively stable, the votes commanded by the other parties do not appear to be easily transferable. So alliances (the Congress with the SP or Mayawati with the SP) do not necessarily fare well.

There is no doubt that dissatisfaction with Yogi Adityanath could lead to an erosion in the BJP’s 40% vote share. But it is as clear that the BSP vote is imploding and that some of it will go to other parties including the BJP.

All this suggests that the BJP will go into the assembly election campaign as a clear favourite. In a multi-cornered race, anything above 35% of the vote can lead to victory.

Which is why there is vocal dissidence. Not because the party will lose but because it is likely to win.

A victory would make Adityanath even stronger and spell doom for the careers of many of the MLAs who do not like him. Their only hope is to make some noise now. If the spread of dissidence worries the central BJP leadership and makes it feel that it could damage the party’s electoral prospects then it might (if the dissidents are lucky) replace Adityanath. At the very least, the leadership will make some attempt to mollify the dissidents, giving them the sort of importance that Adityanath is unwilling to give them.

So far, at least, it looks as though the dissidents have been partly successful. Adityanath remains the BJP’s face for the future but his opponents have been given a measure of importance. They will not be overlooked in ticket distribution etc. This crisis looks like it may pass.

What is happening in the Congress in Punjab is a mirror image of the BJP’s problems in UP. Punjab is one of the few states (if not the only one) where the Congress is comfortably placed. Its primary opponent, the BJP-Akali alliance, has broken up with the BJP and the Akalis going their separate ways. The Akalis themselves are in disarray. The BJP accepts that Punjab is the one state where the Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s charisma fails to sway voters. There is only Aam Admi Party (AAP), which always makes a lot of noise. But so far at least, it has not met with electoral success commensurate with its noise level.

The Congress’s popularity in Punjab is partly a legacy of decades of Congress presence and partly a sign of respect for the central leadership. But it is mainly because of Amarinder Singh, who is the most secure and popular CM of any Congress-ruled state.

Should Amarinder Singh win another term at the next election due in a few months, then he will be unstoppable. He is already in his late seventies. This is his last election and should he win, as seems probable, he will be able to do pretty much what he likes, knowing that he does not have to worry about getting re-elected again.

This worries his rivals and opponents in the party. That is why they have begun to complain loudly as the elections approach. Some fear that their factions may be marginalised in ticket distribution. Others just want to stop Amarinder.

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The best-known of the dissidents is Navjot Singh Sidhu, a popular and personable politician who spent years in the BJP and then flirted with AAP before finally joining the Congress. Despite Sidhu’s charisma, he is by no means the leader of the dissidents; in fact many of them find him as objectionable as they find Amarinder.

But Sidhu has assumed a disproportionate importance in recent weeks because of his ties to Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi who have encouraged and nourished him. The ties were strengthened this week when both the younger Gandhis spent several hours with him in Delhi --- a fact that Sidhu proudly advertised on Twitter.

It could be that the Gandhis were simply trying to mollify him and to get him to accept a compromise in which Amarinder remains in charge. Nobody knows for sure. But soon after the meeting, stories to the effect that Sidhu would be made head of the state Congress unit were leaked to the press. If this does happen, it would be extraordinary--a man leaves the BJP, joins the Congress, calls its state leaders names and is rewarded by becoming head of a party he has spent much of his career opposing.

A more cynical interpretation is that the Gandhis are keen to finally be associated with a victory after terrible electoral defeats (in Kerala, in Assam, in Pondicherry and a wipe-out in Bengal). Punjab seems like a sure thing. Why let Amarinder get the credit? Why not give tickets to his rivals, let him fight the election and then, when the results are declared, replace the CM and claim it as a victory—at long last— for Rahul?

This cynical interpretation may be too unfair but it is a measure of the distrust within the party that more and more Congressmen are suspecting that this is the endgame. Sidhu is a pawn in a larger game to restore Rahul’s reputation.

All success breeds dissidence. What matters is how the party leadership handles it. In UP, the dissidents were spurred on by rumours that PM Modi did not like Adityanath. But the central leadership let them go so far and no further.

In the Congress however, where the central leadership desperately needs an electoral success, the story could be very different.

It may need to hijack a victory in Punjab to make Delhi look good.

For more stories by Vir Sanghvi read here

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