Wednesday, June 29News That Matters

Congress gambit

About six months before the Punjab Assembly elections, the Congress has appointed ex-minister Navjot Singh Sidhu as its state unit chief despite reservations expressed by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. Sidhu (57), a former BJP MP who joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, is held in high regard by the top brass, even as his frequent run-ins with the CM have caused bad blood within the party. His elevation is a clear signal that the high command is not banking on the 79-year-old CM alone to spearhead the party’s electoral campaign. It’s an attempt to make the state unit — dominated for long by the old guard — future-ready by giving major responsibility to younger leaders.

The Congress has high stakes in Punjab, one of the three states (the others being Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh) that have party CMs. Notwithstanding the infighting, the ruling party seems better placed for the 2022 elections than the Opposition. The Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP are struggling to gain a foothold. The Akalis are still finding it hard to shed the baggage of their 10-year rule (2007-17), particularly the sacrilege cases that rocked the state in 2015 and continue to await closure.

If Amarinder and Sidhu work in tandem, the Congress can emerge stronger; if they work at cross purposes, it will create an opening for the Opposition to exploit. It will be a big challenge for Sidhu to garner the support of the old guard, particularly Amarinder’s long-time loyalists. Sidhu is a known crowd-puller, while the two-time CM has experience on his side. The Congress needs both on board to boost its poll prospects. Their synergy, or lack of it, will hold the key to the party’s fortunes in Punjab. The top brass might have to intervene time and again to iron out the differences that could crop up between the two in the run-up to the elections. The onus is on the Congress to play its cards right — or lose the plot by scoring own goals.

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