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Congress can’t win Punjab polls by losing the perception game

As party hurtles from crisis to crisis, flip-flop on Kamal Nath shows how Congress high command and state leadership lacked foresight in appointing him.

punjab Updated: Jun 17, 2016 15:08 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times
Congress,Punjab assembly polls,Kamal Nath
Amarinder’s defence of both Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath is based on his personal audience with Sikhs after the riots during his stay in Delhi for four days.(HT File Photos)

Perception can be a game changer and the Congress with its long history of winning elections should know that. The unsavoury controversy over the appointment of senior leader Kamal Nath as general secretary in-charge of a predominantly Sikh state where the 1984 riots are raked up every election to embarrass the Congress and the emotive issue still evokes strong reactions among the community was a controversy the party could ill afford.

Having lost two state elections in a row and facing the formidable challenge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its aggressive publicity machine in the upcoming polls, the Congress had roped in Kamal Nath, a political sharp-shooter who is known for his inter-personal skills and has successfully anchored state elections in Delhi, to tide over the party’s troubled campaign in Punjab.

Starting from “bad publicity” to Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh’s North America visit to his face-off with strategist Prashant Kishor to the party’s rout in the recent state elections, the Congress has been hurtling from one crisis to another. But the flip-flop on Kamal Nath only shows how the Congress high command and state leadership lacked foresight in appointing him. Amarinder, who cannot wash his of the ill-advised move, may say public perception should be based on truth and not myth but an old warhorse like him should know he cannot win elections by losing the perception game. And, it is not always based on reports of inquiry commissions.

Read: Kamal Nath quits as Congress’ Punjab in-charge over 1984 riots allegations

Read: No Delhi Sikh, except Phoolka, ever complained against Kamal Nath: Capt

Capt underestimated ’84 baggage

Amarinder’s defence of both Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath is based on his personal audience with Sikhs after the riots during his stay in Delhi for four days. But the charge sticks on them nevertheless. According to party sources, Amarinder enjoyed a good rapport with his Doon school junior and wanted Shakeel Ahmad, a loyalist of his predecessor Partap Singh Bajwa, booted out. But he underestimated the damage the baggage of 1984 could inflict on his party’s poll prospects.

Several Punjab Congress leaders have sounded the high command that the 1984 issue still remains an inflammatory one and can be used by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the AAP to take on the party. Had the party consulted its Punjab leaders before Nath’s appointment, it could have saved it the blushes. Just like in neighbouring Haryana, where the party faced the spectacular embarrassment of its party MLAs using the wrong pen to face disqualification of their votes for the Rajya Sabha elections. The Congress had gone ahead with its decision of supporting RK Anand despite former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda making his disappointment amply clear.

In the face of a weakened high command and emboldened regional satraps like Hooda and Amarinder, the Congress needs heavyweights like Ghulam Nabi Azad (appointed UP in-charge), Kamal Nath and even Kishor to ensure its writ still runs in states. But its decisions cannot be unmindful of the ground realities.

As for Amarinder, he has more in his list of personal woes. His son on Thursday refused to appear before the Enforcement Directorate, citing health concerns. Amarinder’s own health does not permit him to brave the heat and dust of Punjab to sustain an election campaign that has started way too early. Or as his critics say, he has burnt himself out holding rallies to oust Bajwa.

Read: Kamal Nath’s appointment cruel joke on Sikhs: AAP

Didn’t ask for Nath’s removal: Capt

Chandigarh: Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh said on Thursday that he had not asked the party high command to remove Kamal Nath as general secretary in charge of Punjab.

“Nath called me and said he was opting out owing to his self-respect and pride. I did not recommend his name as I was not asked to. Nor have I asked for his removal,” he said.

On the party’s flip-flop, Amarinder said Delhi Sikhs did not blame Kamal Nath. He said Sheila Dikshit was sworn in as Delhi chief minister when Kamal Nath was Delhi Congress in-charge. “Who thought that (Delhi chief minister) Arvind Kejriwal, (anti-Sikh riots lawyer and AAP leader) HS Phoolka and (Punjab chief minister) Parkash Singh Badal would malign him after 32 years? Nath has put in his papers on his own. Any self-respecting man would have done that, including me,” Amarinder said.

First Published: Jun 16, 2016 14:01 IST