POLITICS is a very cruel game, one where the adage dog-eat-dog fits perfectly. In dumping their party’s charismatic though, as many within the party assert, non-performing Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh in favour of a Dalit face, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may have taken the biggest gamble of their hitherto nothing-much-to-talk-about political careers.
If the party manages to retain power in next year’s Assembly election, the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi will be dubbed a masterstroke, with credit going to the Gandhi kin. That they will have to share the credit with PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, the man, many feel, will be the real force behind the chair, is beside the point.
However, failure to do so, whatever the excuse, will open the floodgates for another wave of attacks over the leadership skills of Rahul Gandhi. Especially, since he and his sister allowed too much say to Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Navjot Singh Sidhu in the selection of the new Chief Minister and the choice of Amritsar (Central) MLA and Education minister in the Captain Amarinder Singh government OP Soni as Deputy Chief Minister.
“If the Congress doesn’t win, Navjot Sidhu will find somebody else to blame. He is like that only. But Rahul ji won’t have that luxury. Everyone will lay the blame at his doorsteps,” a senior Punjab Congress functionary told me yesterday after Channi’s name was cleared for the top post.
With less than six months left before elections are held in the state, Channi has the onerous task of proving to the voters in Punjab that his appointment wasn’t a fluke, that he deserved to be in the chair.
His appointment as Chief Minister over the heads of the Hindu face Sunil Jakhar and Jat Sikhs like Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, now anointed the Deputy Chief Minister, and Manpreet Badal is aimed at winning over the Dalit votes – at almost 32 percent, Punjab has the highest proportion of Dalit voters in the country, with almost a third (34) out of the total 117 Assembly constituencies in the state reserved for the scheduled castes.
With Channi’s appointment, the Congress hopes to blunt the attack of the now-formidable Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance while at the same time sending out a thinly-veiled message to the 20-odd percent Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh, which will go to polls at the same time as Punjab.
Whether this actually translates into seats for the grand old party will become clear next year.
The manner in which both Rahul and Priyanka allowed Sidhu to blackmail – or browbeat – them into backing his choices for the CM post, as well as the Hindu Deputy Chief Minister, also shows the immense faith they have in his vote-catching abilities.
In doing so, they embarrassed a lot of influential Congress leaders like AICC Treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal, who, after tweeting out congratulations to Brahm Mohindra, Local Government Minister in the Amarinder cabinet, for being selected as Deputy Chief Minister, yesterday, had to tweet out a regret today.
It is an open secret that Sidhu opposed Mohindra only because he feels the latter is close to Captain Amarinder.
As for Captain Amarinder, he may be down but isn’t out completely.
Whatever his detractors may say about him, he remains the party’s biggest vote catcher, and the likes of Sidhu and others will have to work 24×7 to prove that they can deliver better results than him.
Lest there be any doubt, Captain Amarinder, a very shrewd politician, won’t miss any chance to make the going tough for his successor and the PCC chief. Accepting “humiliation” silently and without paying back doesn’t come easily to the Maharaja.
Maneesh Chhibber is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.