Navjot Sidhu Has a Tough Job As Punjab Congress Chief; Will Captain Strike Back?
It's not just Sidhu's appointment, Captain has been overruled even in choosing the new working presidents.
The Congress high command on Sunday 18 July finally appointed Amritsar East MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu as the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, after weeks of negotiations with various competing factions in the state unit.
The party also appointed four working presidents – Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny Bandala, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Nagra.
There are three crucial aspects that need to be examined:
Why are the appointments being seen as a snub to Captain Amarinder Singh?
Why the Congress' troubles may be far from over?
Can Captain strike back?
NOT JUST SIDHU, EVEN THE NEW WORKING PRESIDENTS ARE A SNUB TO CAPTAIN
The four working presidents represent different communities and regions in Punjab:
Sangat Singh Gilzian is an OBC Sikh and an MLA from Urmar (Hoshiarpur district), which is in the Doaba region.
Sukhwinder Danny is a Mazhabi or Dalit Sikh from the Majha region and is the MLA from Jandiala (Amritsar district).
Kuljit Nagra is a Jatt Sikh and an MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib in the Malwa region.
Pawan Goel is an upper-caste Hindu from Jaito (Faridkot district) in the Malwa region.
There's a diversity in terms of age – ranging from 68-year-old Gilzian to 44-year-old Sukhwinder Danny.
The appointments are being seen as the Congress high command's snub to Captain Amarinder Singh. As it is, Sidhu has been made the PCC chief despite Captain's reservations, two of his other demands don't seem to have been met.
First, Captain had demanded that he be given a say in the appointment of working presidents. That doesn't seem to have happened as none of the pro-Captain leaders' names doing the rounds – such as that of Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary – are part of the final list.
In fact, at least one working president Sangat Singh Gilzian had openly criticised Captain on the lack of representation of backward castes.
Kuljit Nagra, too, is known to be a Rahul Gandhi loyalist and part of the anti-Captain faction.
Second, Captain is said to have demanded a public apology from Sidhu, which hasn't happened so far.
WHY SIDHU HAS HIS TASK CUT OUT
Navjot Sidhu may have triumphed over Captain for now, with the help of the high command and the CM's detractors, but he will have his task cut out.
Till now, Sidhu's popularity in Punjab has been due to the fact that he has been a steadfast critic of the Badals, even when he was with their ally BJP and he didn't hesitate to criticise Captain while in Congress. But now Sidhu may have to move out of this permanent Opposition mode and answer for some of the failures of the state government.
Already agitating Elementary Education Training teachers staged a protest outside Sidhu's home even before his appointment. This is only likely to increase in the time to come.
Sidhu will also have to deal with a far closer media scrutiny than Captain had to face, especially from the national media which has been reasonably supportive of the Punjab CM.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which is emerging as the Congress' main challenger in the upcoming elections, has been going soft on Sidhu so far, perhaps with the hope that he may switch sides. The gloves may now be off.
The new Punjab Congress chief will also be faced with the difficult task of taking along competing factions in state unit. Many of Captain's former loyalists like Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhjinder Randhawa, Sukhbinder Sarkaria and Charanjit Singh Channi were quick to change sides and support Sidhu when they realised that the CM's popularity was falling rapidly.
Once Sidhu's appointment became clear, many more fence sitters opened up to him as was evident in his meeting with 30 MLAs on Sunday.
On the other hand, Captain was left only with a handful of committed supporters – just 10 MLAs wrote a letter in his support. Three of them happened to be recent turncoats from AAP and one was Fatehjung Bajwa, whose son was given a government job by Captain in a decision that sparked a major controversy.
But now Sidhu will have to accomodate all the competing factions while also handling the fact that many of the ministers and MLAs face strong anti-incumbency. Giving in to them completely would end up diluting Sidhu's promise of 'change' that has been his USP.
CAN CAPTAIN STRIKE BACK?
This is a difficult moment for Captain – from Sidhu's elevation and betrayal by his former 'supporters' to the high command's snub. It is unlikely that he will take these lying down. It remains to be seen how and when he strikes back. Will he resign? Or even worse, split the party? It remains to be seen what the Captain does and how much support he still has.
The Congress, too, can't afford to completely alienate Captain as they do need the CM and his powers to implement key promises before the elections. The administration is completely in his control and he could influence the implementation of these promises if he wants.
Then, he may also appoint deputy chief ministers from among his loyalists and fence-sitters, which may end up strengthening factionalism.
Sections of the national media continue to back Captain. For instance, one big media house even presented the letter by 10 MLAs as some kind of victory for the CM and did another piece on how age is not a factor that goes against Captain. It's quite likely that Sidhu may face challenges from the media point of view.
The Congress' main troubleshooter in Punjab – general secretary Harish Rawat – is likely to move back to his home state Uttarakhand to prepare for the elections. So, that, too, may complicate things for the party.
All this means that while the Congress high command may have taken a brave call in appointing Sidhu, its woes in Punjab may not be over just yet.
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