In one of the more shocking outcomes of the 2022 Punjab assembly elections, former chief minister and now head of the newly-formed Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), Captain Amarinder Singh has lost his home seat of Patiala by a sizable margin of 19,873 votes against Aam Aadmi Party's Ajit Pal Singh Kohli.
Many may blame Captain and his allegedly ineffective governance as Punjab's CM for this outcome.
Singh stepped down as the chief minister of Punjab and resigned from the Congress party in September 2021, exactly five months before the assembly elections.
Later in November, he also resigned from the party itself while accusing the Congress high-command of "humiliating" him by extending support to Navjot Singh Sidhu who according to Captain is "an acolyte of the Pakistani deep state."
So far, so good.
In December, however, Amarinder Singh joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — one of the most unpopular political outfits in Punjab. That arguably, will in future be referred to as the beginning of his political irrelevance.
From 'Maharaja' to 'Captain' — A Snapshot Of Amarinder Singh's Political Journey
Popularly known as the Maharaja of Patiala, Singh hails from the Patiala royal family, one of the wealthiest and biggest landowners in Punjab. His parents, Yadavindra Singh and Mohinder Kaur, were the first from the family to join politics.
In 1968, Amarinder Singh, who was then a commissioned officer in the Indian army quit his job to start his career in politics.
It was only in 1980, however, that he tasted his first electoral success winning the general election from the Patiala parliamentary seat on a Congress ticket.
In 1984, Amarinder Singh quit the Congress party over Operation Blue Star, a military operation carried out by the Indian security forces to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was demanding the establishment of Khalistan – a Sikh homeland – from inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
He then joined the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in 1986 but left soon after on moral grounds to protest against the government's decision of sending the police to the Golden Temple complex.
Next, in 1992 he formed his own party, the Akali Dal (Panthic), merged it with SAD, and later rejoined the Congress in 1977 after Parkash Singh Badal denied him a ticket.
In 1999, he was appointed as the chief of Punjab Congress. Amarinder Singh finally became the chief minister of Punjab in 2002 after he led the Congress party to victory in the assembly elections.
This was his first term as the chief minister of the state, a post he again held in 2017.
The Final Exit From The Congress
In a political career spanning over 50 years, Amarinder Singh has jumped ship multiple times from the Congress to the Akali Dal, and back. In fact, in the 90s, he even floated his own political party – Akali Dal (Panthic).
In November 2021, however, when Captain resigned from the party it wasn't because he was party's social, political, or cultural position over an issue. It was because he felt "cornered and humiliated".
"A midnight conspiracy carried out against me at your and your children’s behest," he wrote in a letter addressed to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. "Sidhu is a person of unstable mind and you will one day regret this decision and it would be too late by then," Captain said as he accused the Gandhi family of patronising Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Soon after, he floated the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), a party which later entered into an alliance with the BJP and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa's Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukta).
An Ideological U-Turn (Or Not!)
Captain's call to enter into an alliance with the BJP raised several eyebrows. Charanjit Singh Channi, the man who took over as the chief minister of Punjab after Captain's resignation, accused the latter of helping the BJP further its "divisive propaganda".
"The BJP has now zeroed in on Captain Amarinder Singh and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa as new allies to fill the void left by the Shiromani Akali Dal to promote its divisive discourse in Punjab," Channi said in a statement dated 5 December.
Throughout his election campaign Captain has played by the BJP's election playbook. He claimed that Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan lobbied for Navjot Singh Sidhu to be a part of the Punjab cabinet. Captain also supported Centre's decision to increase the jurisdiction of Border Security Force (BSF) in Punjab from 15 to 50 km.
With national security being one of his major poll planks, Captain raised the issue of Pakistani drones — carrying drugs and small payloads — to repeatedly target the Congress government led by Charanjit Singh Channi.
Having been with the Congress party for the better part of his 5 decade long political career, can this alliance with the BJP and statements made through the course of the election campaign then be considered as an ideological shift for Amarinder Singh? Probably not!
Even when he was with the Congress party, Captain was seen as a right of Centre politician. He opposed the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor citing national security and threat from Pakistan as reasons. "The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is clearly a game plan of the ISI," he had said in a statement in 2018.
Back in 2017, he also supported the Indian army's use of a civilian as human shield in Kashmir. "Had I been in the same situation I would have carried out the same action," Captain said in a Facebook post.
After Amarinder Singh resigned as the chief minister of Punjab, many argued that the 79-year-old should "gracefully retire". Captain in his letter to Sonia Gandhi, however, made it clear that he "intends to soldier on and not fade away."
Hindus make for 38.5% of Punjab's voters, who form the core of the BJP's base in the state. A split between the BJP and its long-term ally – Akali Dal, means that Amarinder Singh — whose remains popular among upper-caste Hindu voters — stands to gain from this equation. With the year-long farmers' protest ensuring that the BJP remains unpopular in the state, this transfer of vote, however, might not be immediately visible
Clearly, Captain Amarinder Singh from here will either fade into political irrelevance or will act as as a catalyst for the emergence of saffron politics in Punjab. Perhaps the only solace for Captain would be that the Congress, which became his enemy number one towards the end, also suffered a big defeat in the elections.