Is Amarinder Singh's Exit in Punjab a Leaf Out of BJP's Gujarat Playbook?

Even though both the parties executed an exercise almost similar in style, the question is — who did it better?

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and former Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.&nbsp;</p></div>

The last two weeks, or say weekends, have been extremely eventful for politicians, journalists and political observers in India. Sitting chief ministers of two states where elections are due next year – Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab and Vijay Rupani in Gujarat – were asked to resign by their respective parties, making way for newer, lesser-known faces to take over.

While the Congress gave Punjab its first Dalit chief minister in Charanjit Channi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat chose Bhupendra Patel for the top post in a bid to win back its traditional Patidar vote bank.

Even though both the parties executed an exercise almost similar in style and intent, a pertinent question is – who did it better?


Elections, Anti-Incumbency, and Caste Equations

Both Punjab and Gujarat are scheduled to witness high-stakes Assembly elections in 2022. For the BJP, Gujarat is a matter of prestige, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah and the laboratory for all party experiments. On the other hand, Punjab is one of the only few states where the Congress still enjoys a sizeable majority, others being Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Under such circumstances, both the parties facing massive anti-incumbency only saw it fit, and rightly so, to replace the sitting chief ministers and enter the election year with fresh faces.

Interestingly, the choice of chief ministerial candidates by both the BJP and the Congress reflects the focus on trying to balance the caste equations. While the BJP aimed to realign with the Patels, the Congress has chosen a Dalit chief minister in a state where Scheduled Castes make for 31.9 percent of the population.

Further, the final decision making seemed to have rested with the party high command in both the situations, with a slight difference of Navjot Singh Sidhu acting as a 'catalyst' in Captain's removal from the helm.

In Gujarat, the decision to remove Vijay Rupani was solely that of the party high command, and as many would argue, the process looked much smoother than that in Punjab.

But This Is Where The Similarities End

The Quint spoke to Tridivesh Singh Maini, political analyst and faculty member at the OP Jindal School of National Affairs, who closely watches Punjab. Maini pointed out that while comparing the two situations one should keep in mind the political careers of the two leaders who stepped down.

"Captain Amarinder Singh has had a long and eventful political career. Unlike Vijay Rupani he wasn't installed by the party high command as a 'proxy' chief minister. However, with time, Captain became increasingly unpopular and disconnected with people on ground."
Tridivesh Singh Maini, Political Analyst

He further added that Amarinder Singh's removal was long overdue. "He became inaccessible over the last few months. Even as media projects Sidhu as the main man behind his fall, he didn't enjoy the support of majority of MLAs because of this," Maini added.

Clearly, the party high command had to step in to address the growing factionalism within the party and anti-incumbency amongst the voters.

But even though Captain's popularity over the years plummeted, he still remains one of the tallest leaders in Punjab politics. This made the task for the Congress high command much more difficult compared to the BJP high command. Vijay Rupani was easier to replace because his image, unlike Captain, was never that of a 'mass leader'.

Further, the BJP's control over the information machinery in Gujarat seemed to be absolute as the news of Rupani's resignation did not come out till he actually resigned. This is in sharp contrast to how the whisper network around Captain's resignation was already activated months before his exit.

In fact, in August 2021, The Quint had reported about Amarinder Singh's 'inevitable' resignation and how Sidhu's appointment as the party chief in Punjab was harming Captain's prospects of holding on to his throne.

Further, in case of the Congress, while the Gandhis were the final authority on the matter, they didn't seem to enjoy the same authority as the Modi-Shah duo enjoy in Gujarat.

This is evident from how there was massive confusion even till the date of Captain's resignation on who his successor will be. While Sukhjinder Randhawa's name was almost finalised for the top post, sources claim that Channi was picked after Sidhu didn't back the former. And even after Charanjit Channi's appointment, there are reports of Sunil Jakhar, another frontrunner for the post, being upset with the move.

In Gujarat, on the other hand, we saw Vijay Rupani's deputy Nitin Patel openly crying and expressing dissatisfaction in front the media but the rumblings lasted a little less than 24 hours.

What Next?

The biggest difference in how the transition of power happened in the two states will be evident in the dividend the process pays in elections next year.

This is not the first time that the Congress or the BJP have carried out an activity of this nature. The BJP has replaced its sitting chief ministers more recently in Uttarakhand and Karnataka and earlier in Gujarat in 2016 when Vijay Rupani replaced Anandiben Patel ahead of the 2017 elections.

The Congress did the same in 2003 in Maharashtra when they replaced the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh with Sushilkumar Shinde, won the election, and gave the top post back to Deshmukh.

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