Is Sidhu Vs Captain in Punjab A Time Tested Trick of Gandhis?
Punjab is slated to vote in Phase 7 on the 19th of May and the state is witnessing a triangular contest. Even though the Aam Aadmi Party’s strength has declined—as acknowledged by many political pundits—a 10-12% vote share (half of what it secured last time) is likely to be the deciding factor in each seat. It is noteworthy that in 2014 Lok Sabha elections the votes secured by 3rd candidate was higher than margin of victory on 11 out of 13 seats.
Fast forward to 2019, each party is having its own set of problems. There has been a split in the Akali Dal. The AAP is in disarray, two of its four MPs have resigned. The Congress govt is facing anti-incumbency, anger over farm loan waivers, inability to stop the drug menace, and the game of one-upmanship between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Captain Amarinder Singh. Though Sidhu has now joined the campaign after a war of words, is it too late to benefit the party?
Sidhu vs Captain: A Tale of Two Ambitions
Ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls in 2017, former BJP leader Sidhu started a new innings by joining the Congress party. Sidhu nursed Chief Ministerial ambitions but this didn’t go down well with Amarinder. Sidhu, at least, wanted the Deputy CM chair which was also denied by the CM. The former cricketer—who is currently the Minister of Local Government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs, Archives and Museums—was upset with the portfolio and wanted the Urban Development Ministry held by Amarinder.
This upset Sidhu who retorted by saying “What I do with my own time is nobody's Busines”. The Pakistan visit controversy further strained their relations. Both Amarinder and Sidhu were invited to Imran’s swearing-in ceremony. While Amarinder denied, Sidhu went ahead. The latter, after returning to India, ostentatiously expressed his faith in his party chief. “My captain is Rahul Gandhi and Captain’s captain is also Rahul Gandhi,” he said.
Congress Is Looking At “Who After Amarinder”
Several of his Congress colleagues feel that Sidhu is trying to run out the ‘Captain’ and aggressively pitching himself as a successor to Amarinder. The Congress central leadership appears to be putting its weight behind Sidhu, known as a skilled orator. He was recently made “star campaigner” for the assembly polls and General Elections in several states. Amarinder has already announced that 2017 was his last election, so the party is looking for his back-up to take on the formidable Akalis.
The Gandhis have been accused of cutting competition to remain in control. Ambitious mass leaders like Pawar, Mamata, Jagan, have left the party seeing no scope for themselves. Rahul Gandhi’s endorsement of Sidhu can be seen as a strategy to keep Amarinder in check. Amarinder is very popular and has outshone his party in the state. As per a CSDS survey, he is the most popular CM of Punjab in its entire history.
The Gandhis and their loyalists might also have been upset by the subtle strategic positioning of Amarinder to emerge as a consensus candidate and become the PM in case of a hung Parliament. After all, he is a good administrator and has friends in all parties.
Sidhu’s Rising Popularity
Sidhu’s popularity has witnessed a steep rise in Punjab. According to the India Today Political Stock Exchange in October 2018, four percent people wanted him to be the next chief minister of Punjab. This increased to 16 percent in January 2019: a four-fold jump in just three months.
This is the biggest rise for any leader in any state in their survey. In comparison, the popularity of Amarinder has dipped significantly. 42 percent people credit Sidhu for the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, as opposed to 15 percent to PM Modi, and 14 percent to CM Amarinder Singh.
Sidhu’s Absence from Punjab During Canvassing
While Sidhu was busy campaigning in other states, he wasn’t seen much on the roads canvassing for the Congress in his home state. He was ‘unwell’ and, thus, wasn’t campaigning. His wife reportedly blamed Amarinder for not inviting Sidhu and also denying her a ticket from Amritsar.
However, better sense prevailed and Sidhu joined the campaign at last. The relationship between them is like a successful boss (Captain) and an employee (Sidhu), who is the ‘promoter’s guy’. The boss feels he is the tallest leader of the Congress in Punjab. The party made a comeback in the state all because of his efforts. So, he doesn’t even care about the promoter. The employee feels he has the blessings of the Congress chief, so he can get away with anything.
In effect, this is the continuation of Congress and especially Rahul’s strategy to work with a combined leadership in states; like in Rajasthan (Gehlot and Pilot), MP (Kamalnath, Digvivijay, Scindia) and Chhattisgarh (Baghel, Sahu, Singh Deo). Rahul needs both, so tolerates their tantrums, as they both bring experience and youthful zeal to the table.
Sidhu needs to be patient as he has burned the bridges with the BJP. He can’t return there and has to wait for his chance after Amarinder. Till then, he needs to work on increasing his popularity and acceptance. He and his wife need to listen to ‘Apna Time Aayega’ more often.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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