Captain Amarinder Resigns: From a Survey to Protests, 8 Things That Led to This
An internal survey of the Congress had revealed massive anti-incumbency against the CM.
The inevitable has happened. Captain Amarinder Singh has resigned as the chief minister of Punjab on Saturday 18 September, less than 24 hours after the Congress announced a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party.
The writing was on the wall for Captain after 48 MLAs reportedly wrote a letter to the party high command seeking his removal. This led to party in-charge for Punjab Harish Rawat calling a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party.
The Quint had also reported in August that the Congress may be compelled to replace Captain Amarinder Singh.
At least in Punjab politics, it brought an end to an extremely eventful career, one that also witnessed the most traumatic phase in the history of Punjab.
The Congress in Punjab owes a great deal to Captain. His resignation from the Congress after Operation Blue Star in 1984 won him a great deal of respect among Sikhs. Though he returned to the Congress some years later, he remained relatively untouched by the blot of the 1980s and 1990s that had discredited much of the party among Sikhs in Punjab.
This played a crucial role in bringing the Congress back to power in 2002 and then again, with a massive majority in 2017.
So what went wrong for Captain?
PARTY SURVEY EXPOSED FALLING POPULARITY
Captain's approval ratings began falling barely two years into his tenure.
In early 2019, Captain's approval rating was 19 percent according to the CVoter tracker and it fell to 9.8 percent in early 2021. According to the latest tracker, his approval rating is now in the negative.
According to Congress sources, the party high command had commissioned a survey across several districts in Punjab in August this year and it revealed massive anti-incumbency against Captain.
This made the high command realise that they may lose Punjab unless they remove Captain.
NO ACTION AGAINST DRUG MAFIA
The promise of non-corrupt governance never materialised. The drug, sand-mining and cable mafia that was a feature of the SAD-BJP regime, continued under Captain. This despite Captain swearing on the Gutka Sahib that he will crack down on the drug mafia.
NO ACTION AGAINST BADALS ON SACRILEGE CASES
The rapid decline this year came largely after the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected the Special Investigation report on the 2015 sacrilege incidents in Bargari and the subsequent firing on protesters at Mehal Kalan.
There was a great deal of expectation among the public that the role of the Badals will be exposed and there will be action against them, but that didn't happen.
Lack of action against Badals in the sacrilege cases created the perception that Captain was going soft on them or that he had a hidden deal with them.
The lack of action against Badals was also in sharp contrast to the surge in UAPA arrests of Sikh youths under Captain.
Captain was also accused of not fulfilling his other election promises, such as providing jobs and giving unemployment allowance. Visits on the ground also revealed that many people eligible for the Rs 1500 monthly pension for the elderly were either getting Rs 750 or, in some cases, nothing at all.
It was due to the high number of unfulfilled promises that the party high command had to give Captain a list of 18 tasks to be accomplished before the elections.
Captain's regime has been facing protests from several groups - from government employees, to para-teachers, farmers, ASHA workers, unemployed youth, Dalit groups, to name a few.
Though the protests against the three farm laws are directed mainly at the Centre, they did create a general atmosphere of dissatisfaction against political parties and this also affected the sentiment regarding Captain.
Captain's recent statement that the farmers' protest are harming the economic situation of Punjab was also an indication of his disconnect from the people's anger.
One of the biggest complaints against Captain was his inaccesibility. He was seldom seen meeting MLAs or reaching out to the public and mostly operated from his farmhouse near Mohali.
MLAs often complained that he didn't act on their requests and petitions and relied mostly on buereaucrats.
DESERTION FROM LOYALISTS
Captain has always faced factional opposition within the Punjab Congress. Earlier his rivals were Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Partap Singh Bajwa. But in this term, his tussle has mainly been with Amritsar East MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu who joined the Congress in 2017.
However, Sidhu remained isolated since his resignation in 2018 but the rejection of the SIT report on the sacrilege cases changed equations.
Many of Captain's erstwhile loyalists also deserted him. For instance leaders like Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhjinder Randhawa and Sukhbinder Sarkaria - collectively known as Majha express due to the region they come from - had helped Captain win the factional tussle against Bajwa earlier. But this time, even they deserted him as they had realised that they Congress may lose if it continues with Captain.
They have been the strongest backers of Sidhu in the power struggle.
But it wasn't just the Majha Express leaders. Even a pro-Captain leader like the then Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar criticised his decision to give government jobs to the kin of MLAs Partap Bajwa and Rakesh Pandey.
HIGH COMMAND'S ASSERTION
The falling popularity of Captain coincided with the Congress high command's relatively more proactive approach towards state units. In the past few months, the Congress leadership has appointed extremely active state unit presidents like Revanth Reddy in Telangana, Nana Patole in Maharashtra and K Sudhakaran in Kerala.
This was to a great extent due to the intervention of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi based on inputs from party functionaries in these states.
The same was done in Punjab through the appointment of Navjot Sidhu in June. However, the party's hope that Captain and Sidhu would work together proved shortlived as the bickering continued even after Sidhu's appointment.
Once that happened, it was clear that the party would have to let go of one of the two leaders. Given the widespread negative sentiment against Captain, it was clear what the party had to do.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
However, Captain did have his share of supporters. Despite being seen negatively by a major chunk of voters, he remained popular in one demographic - older Hindu voters.
These are voters who prefer either BJP or Congress at the state level and are wary of assertive Sikh leaders.
How the Congress retains this section even after Captain's removal, will be crucial.
Secondly, Captain also has his share of loyalists among the MLAs and in the administration.
It remains to be seen whether his successor will be able to take all the factions along and implement the party's pending prommises.
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