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Making Navjot Sidhu Punjab Congress Chief Won't Be Easy: Here Are 5 Main Issues

Captain vs Sidhu is only one aspect of the Punjab Congress crisis. There are many other variables.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
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The Congress high command has summoned Amritsar East MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu a day after it is said to have put forward a peace formula to end the deadlock in the Punjab Congress. He is at Congress president Sonia Gandhi's residence as of 11.45 AM on Saturday.

Apparently, the proposal is to make Sidhu the new chief of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee while fighting the Assembly elections under Captain Amarinder Singh's leadership.

It has also proposed appointing two working presidents – a Dalit and an upper caste Hindu – as well as one or more deputy chief ministers to balance caste and regional considerations.

On being asked by reporters about Sidhu's elevation, Congress' in-charge for Punjab Harish Rawat hinted that it could happen. However, he later clarified that he was talking about major changes in the state unit and not specifically about this.

Meanwhile, Sidhu on Thursday met Captain's supporters-turned-dissenters, such as Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhjinder Randhawa, and Charanjit Singh Channi.

However, Captain Amarinder is said to have voiced his opposition to Sidhu's meeting and is still resisting his appointment as PCC chief.

Even if he does accept, Captain could extract his pound of flesh in the bargain which may mean the sacking of some of his detractors.

Can Sidhu's possible appointment end Congress' woes in Punjab or will it create new troubles?

The following five aspects are crucial here.

1. CAPTAIN VS SIDHU NOT THE ONLY ASPECT TO CONGRESS FACTIONALISM

The tussle between Captain Amarinder and Navjot Sidhu may be the most publicised aspect of the factionalism within the Congress, but not the only aspect.

Amarinder had historically been opposed by leaders like Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Partap Singh Bajwa at different points of time. Sidhu has been the dominant anti-Captain figure for the past four years or so.

However, in the past few months dissent against Amarinder has become much more widespread.

The Majha Express – a term used for Majha region ministers, like Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Bajwa, and Sukhbinder Sarkaria – that used to be pro-Captain Amarinder, has turned against him.

A number of other leaders who weren't anti-Captain or pro-Sidhu – such as current PCC chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar, several cabinet ministers and Punjab Youth Congress chief Brinder Dhillon – had criticised Captain's decision to give government jobs to kin of MLAs Fatehjung Bajwa and Rakesh Pandey.

Some of these leaders have come back into Captain's fold - Brinder Dhillon for instance is said to have commissioned 'Captain for 2022' hoardings across Punjab. But many still remain against projecting Captain for another term.

The reason for this is simple - Captain's popularity has nosedived in the past few months and many of the MLAs feel that he is not in a position to ensure their re-election. This brings us to the second aspect.

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2. CAPTAIN'S POPULARITY IS DOWN BUT IS SIDHU THE SOLUTION?

At least two major surveys conducted in Punjab highlighted Captain's unpopularity. A CVoter survey conducted in January, places Captain among the five least popular CMs based on approval ratings from their respective states.

A survey by Prashnam conducted in select states, placed Captain as the second-most unpopular, above only the Uttarakhand CM (three BJP CMs taken collectively).

Even on the ground, it is very common to hear the sentiment that "Captain has done nothing". The main allegation is that he failed to act against the Badals on the Bargari sacrilege case and against Bikram Singh Majithia on the drug trafficking allegations. This is besides the criticism that the government hasn't done enough to tackle drugs and sand-mining or address the power crisis in the state.

A sizeable portion of Punjab's voters are fed up with both Badals and Captain and are looking for an alternative. The Aam Aadmi Party is trying to fill that space.

The only leader from the two mainstream parties to retain some kind of credibility is Sidhu.

Even voters deeply critical of Congress, SAD and BJP, see Sidhu as different.

He has won goodwill especially among Sikh voters due to the key role he played in the opening up of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor. He also has a relatively cleaner image compared to Captain and the Badals.

The main criticism against him is that he "changes parties" and doesn't take up responsibilities.

However, bringing Sidhu in is only part of the solution. The Congress government's failures would still need to be addressed if it has to have a chance of coming back to power.

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3. CASTE AND REGIONAL FACTORS NEED TO BE BALANCED

Appointing Sidhu as PCC chief will create a new imbalance – of both the CM and state unit chief being Jatt Sikhs. As it is, Congress is facing criticism from Dalits for underrepresentation. Then upper caste and OBC Hindu votes are also crucial for the party and were instrumental in bringing the party to power in 2017. Removing a respected leader like Sunil Jakhar as PCC chief to accommodate Sidhu may not go down well with this section.

Though there's no regional problem in appointing Sidhu as he's an MLA from the Majha region while Captain is from Malwa, the Congress will have to strike a balance between the three regions. The Doaba region will also have to be accommodated and appointing a Dalit from Doaba as working president or deputy CM seems likely.

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4. THE TROUBLE OF PROJECTING TWO FACES

Appointing Sidhu as PCC chief would make him a contender for CM. He is likely to have a greater say in ticket selection and if the party wins a majority, it is quite likely that many of the MLAs would support him.

In both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress took a call to appoint the PCC chief as CM, though in Rajasthan it appointed the seniormost leader.

So what happens to the Congress' position that they would fight the polls under Captain's leadership?

Having two faces and two power centres may be harmful to the party in the run-up to the elections. There's no guarantee that the competing factions will work unitedly in the elections.

There's also the fear that if one faction becomes more dominant in the run-up to the polls, the other may try to pull it down.

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5. WHAT A SIDHU APPOINTMENT WILL SAY ABOUT CONGRESS' LEADERSHIP

In case Sidhu is appointed as the Punjab Congress president, it will be a significant move from the point of view of the Congress nationally as well. Sidhu is known to be close to Rahul Gandhi and, more so, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It is believed that Priyanka had been instrumental in the efforts to rehabilitate Sidhu.

In case Sidhu is made PCC chief, the appointment would be proof of Priyanka's rising influence within the Congress and also of the party high command's more assertive approach towards a strong satrap like Captain.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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