Beef With Navjot Sidhu or 'Cooking Lamb'? What Next for Captain Amarinder Singh
Two surveys give important insights into what Captain Amarinder Singh's core base in Punjab may be.
Ever since Captain Amarinder Singh resigned as the chief minister of Punjab, he has been giving a number of interviews to TV channels. And his primary target is Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
In one of his latest interviews, he said that he is willing to "make any sacrifice" to ensure that Sidhu doesn't become the chief minister of Punjab. He even said that he will field a strong candidate against Sidhu wherever he stands from.
Meanwhile, there is a great deal of speculation regarding the options that lie in front of Captain. On one hand, the increasing support he's getting from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and pro-BJP media has sparked suggestions that he may strike a deal with the party ruling at the Centre.
On the other hand, there's also a belief that he may stay within the Congress to pursue his mission of scuttling Sidhu. Then, of course, are people giving advice in a lighter vein – the most viral of them being a video of Captain Chanan Singh Sidhu of the Kiri Kisan Sher-e-Punjab Party, telling the Patiala royal to "cook lamb, have gin in the afternoon, whisky at night and enjoy life".
It remains to be seen whether Captain takes the 'cooking lamb' advice or focuses on his beef with Navjot Sidhu.
But whatever he does next, will be dependent on four things:
1. The support Captain has on the ground
2. Who Congress pitches as its CM candidate
3. Congress' factional dynamics
4. How other parties deal with Captain
What's Captain's Support on the Ground?
According to CVoter's tracker, just before his removal, Captain Amarinder Singh's Net Satisfaction Rating was at around -28 percentage points. Sixty percent people responded that they were "Not at all satisfied" with his performance. Sixteen percent said they were "satisfied to some extent" and 15 percent said they were "very much satisfied".
It is this "very much satisfied" 15 percent who may be considered Captain's core support base.
According to CVoter's tracker, 60 percent respondents in Punjab were "not at all satisfied" with Captain and only 15 percent were "very much satisfied".
Another survey is relevant in this context. Survey agency Prashnam asked voters in Punjab whether dropping Captain as CM was the right thing or not. About 12 percent people said that replacing Captain "was not the right thing". Sixty-three percent said both dropping Captain and appointing Charanjit Singh Channi were correct decisions. About 13 percent said that removing Captain was the right decision but not appointing Channi. And 12.1 percent replied "can't say".
Here again it seems that Captain's core support is in the 10-15 percent range.
Prashnam has further done a cross-tabulation based on caste and religion. It turns out that Captain's support is highest among 'non-Dalit Hindus' – basically Upper Castes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) – with 22.4 percent saying that removing Captain wasn't the right decision.
Prashnam also asked respondents who should be the Congress' choice as its CM face in the upcoming polls.
This doesn't mean all the people surveyed are Congress voters. They could be Akali, AAP or BJP voters as well. But it focuses on who they prefer within the Congress. The other options given were Sidhu, Channi, "party can decide later" and "no opinion".
In this question, 17.9 percent respondents picked Captain, 34.7 percent Sidhu and 26 percent Channi.
Among Congress leaders, support for Captain is highest among Upper Caste Hindus; Sidhu has a huge lead among Jatt Sikhs; while Channi is ahead among Dalits across the religious divide.
Support for Captain was highest among the OBC and Upper Caste Hindus with 27 percent in this category picking him over other options. According to this survey, Sidhu leads among Jatt Sikhs, Channi among Dalits – both Sikh and Hindu – and Captain among non-Dalit Hindus.
The Quint too had reported earlier from Punjab that Captain's support is highest among Upper Caste Hindu voters, particularly older voters in this category.
This is a vote bank that's in a flux presently, particularly in urban areas, with the BJP having no chance of coming to power in Punjab. Therefore, Captain's removal adds to the confusion among them.
Prashnam's survey, however, says that Sidhu is just 0.5 percentage points below Captain in this demographic, though support for Channi is low.
Captain's comments against Sidhu, especially linking him to Pakistan, seem to be aimed mainly at this vote bank.
Who Will Be the Congress' CM Face?
What Captain does, would also depend on who the Congress will choose as its CM face.
Captain has made it clear that he would do anything to prevent Navjot Sidhu from becoming the CM.
This can work both ways. While this could harm Sidhu among Congress workers and Captain's core supporters we discussed above, it may create sympathy for the Punjab Congress chief among other sections, especially those who have been upset with Captain. It is interesting that support for Captain's removal and for Sidhu is high among Jatt Sikhs. Captain's attacks on Sidhu could boost the latter in this section.
Channi is a more complicated case for Captain.
Though a critic of Captain, he still maintained some kind of dialogue with him. Captain's camp did see him as a lesser evil compared to Sidhu and even someone like Sukhjinder Randhawa. This partly explains why Captain promptly welcomed Channi's appointment.
Channi, too, has been respectful of Captain though he removed many of his favourites from key bureaucratic positions.
After having hailed his appoitnment, Captain may lose credibility if he openly comes out against Channi.
A more likely scenario would be that Captain may either try to wean Channi away from Sidhu or, failing that, project him as Sidhu's proxy.
Factional Divisions Within Congress
Captain, who once commanded the loyalty of a vast majority of Congress' MLAs, was in the end left with just about a dozen. Brahm Mohindra, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot are some of Captain's core loyalists. Others like Vijay Inder Singla, Sunder Sham Arora, Bharat Bhushan Ashu are also said to be from the Captain camp. It is possible that Channi may end up dropping some from the Cabinet and accommodating some, especially those who command some support on the ground.
Given Channi's low popularity among Hindus, he may be compelled to retain some Hindu ministers who may have been in the Captain's camp.
The other option for Captain would be to take advantage of the possible dissatisfaction over Sidhu's growing clout. He had already reached out to former rival Partap Singh Bajwa during the recent crisis in the Congress. The Majha Express leaders may also be upset with Sidhu given how he scuttled Sukhjinder Randhawa's chances of becoming the CM.
Then, of course, there's Channi. It is possible that at some point, Channi may begin resenting having Sidhu's shadow behind him.
Everyone who has a bone to pick with Sidhu, can be a potential ally for Captain. However, it isn't clear how much they would be willing to be seen to be close to the former CM.
Will Any Other Party Take Captain – SAD, AAP, BJP or Even TMC?
The Aam Aadmi Party clearly doesn't want Captain as bringing him on board would destroy their claim of being a party that can bring 'change' in Punjab. Though Captain has cordial relations with the Akalis, it is unlikely that they would take him on board given that their main plank in the elections is the alleged failures of his government.
Then there are outside entities like the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is trying to expand itself in several states, including poll-bound Goa. However, TMC's adviser Prashant Kishor resigned as adviser to Captain Amarinder Singh and his inputs to the Congress high command contributed to the latter's removal. So a TMC-PK-Captain tie-up may also be a non-starter.
As of now, Captain is getting open support from only the BJP. The Punjab BJP, Tarun Chugh in particular, has been supporting and amplifying Captain's comments against Sidhu.
On the ground, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too has a positive view of Captain. During visits to Punjab, we came across several RSS functionaries who disliked the Gandhis but had a positive view of Captain.
Pro-BJP news channels are also giving a great deal of prominence to Captain in the past one week, especially his attacks on Sidhu.
Clearly, the BJP does want Captain on its side, either formally or informally.
However, due to the farm laws, BJP has become a pariah in Punjab. While it retains some support among urban Hindu voters, this is not sufficient.
This is not a vote bank that would want to prop up a party on its own. It would only back a party that has a chance of getting votes of other sections as well. To address this, the BJP tried reaching out to Dalit voters and even promised a Dalit CM. But that didn't get much traction. And now with Congress appointing a Dalit as CM, BJP's promise has lost its importance.
Joining BJP, therefore, may not be a desirable option for Captain, at least not until the negativity regarding the BJP in Punjab dissipates.
If at all the Congress wants to join hands with the BJP, a more feasible option would be to form his own regional party and split Congress votes, especially if Sidhu is the party's face. A direct relationship with BJP can happen later.
However, the 'nationalist Captain vs Pro-Pak Sidhu' narrative that Captain is pushing won't cut much ice in Punjab, except among a small chunk of Hindu voters.
To regain any credibility, he would have to negotiate with the Centre on farm laws and get them to arrive at some kind of compromise.
The big picture here is that irrespective of whether Captain remains in Congress, joins another party or forms his own, he would need to emerge as the champion of a major issue affecting Punjab if he has to revive his career.
The other option, of course, is to take Captain Chanan Singh's advice, take it easy, write a book maybe and pursue other aspects of life.
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