Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is facing a crisis born out of his very success
The crisis in the Congress in Punjab has been smouldering beneath the surface for a long time, before the current eruption. Until a few months ago, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had appeared invincible and poised to lead the party to a second consecutive victory in the Assembly election due early next year. Rebel leader Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relentless open battle against the Chief Minister has now cast a long shadow on the party’s prospects. Mr. Sidhu, a party hopper driven by personal ambition, has by default become the champion of the resentment among party MLAs and workers against the Chief Minister’s unilateralism. Mr. Singh was the sole architect of the Congress victory in 2017. After winning 77 of the State’s 117 Assembly seats then, its victory march continued through the 2019 Lok Sabha and local body elections. But a streak of arrogance probably disconnected him from some sections of the party. His very strength — he is head and shoulders above any alternative, including Mr. Sidhu, within the Congress — seems to have opened up a weakness: so sure of his own indispensability, he had little time or patience for some of those in the lower rungs of the party. Congress MLAs complain of humiliation at the hand of bureaucrats and found their lives overshadowed by the giant figure of Mr. Singh.
Also, the performance of the Government is coming under scrutiny too. High power tariffs, power cuts, a high unemployment rate and unchecked drug trafficking have exposed the chinks in the armour of the Chief Minister. Faced with bad options, the Congress central leadership appointed a committee headed by Mallikarjun Kharge. It met with around 150 party leaders and submitted a report but that has only opened a Pandora’s box. The Chief Minister took the committee deliberations as a slight, and his detractors, as an open season. Meanwhile, the unmistakable, though oblique, endorsement of Mr. Sidhu by the Gandhi family has complicated the scene further. The former cricketer is a recent entrant in Congress, after a cushy stopover in the BJP as Member of Parliament and contemplating a detour to the Aam Aadmi Party. As a life-long careerist with a reputation for a short temper, he is hardly the leader that critics of the Chief Minister yearn for. Punjab politics is in a churn due to the farmer agitation and an ongoing realignment of political forces. The SAD and BSP have formed a new alliance, and the BJP is left alone. Agitating farmers may have political plans in the coming months. The Congress central leadership and Mr. Singh must work together than at cross purposes to bring order within the party, so that the Government can steer the State’s progress without the dramatic distractions.