The Congress seems intent on undermining strong regional leaders, as seen in Punjab
Deciphering the political calculus of the Congress can be a tough task. The latest example is the appointment of Navjot Sidhu as the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. After mounting a relentless public attack against CM Amarinder Singh and publicly praising other parties, Mr. Sidhu is now tasked with leading the Congress. He spent 13 years in the BJP, five in the Congress, while flirting with the idea of joining the AAP in between. He joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly election which the party won mostly on account of Mr. Singh’s skills. Mr. Sidhu got a cabinet berth but fell out with the CM soon enough. Mr. Singh opposed Mr. Sidhu’s visits to Pakistan, and a ticket for his wife in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The Congress won eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats from Punjab. Punjab constitutes 15% of the Congress’s total Lok Sabha strength of 52. Mr. Sidhu had little support among MPs, MLAs or party workers until the Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — tilted the scales in his favour. On the one hand there is strong evidence of his opportunism, lack of maturity, unprincipled greed for power that includes claiming a Lok Sabha seat for his wife within two years of defecting to the Congress, and inability to work as part of a team. On the other hand, he has absolutely no track record of any political activism, public service or being ideologically aligned to the Congress in any manner.
Opportunists without any convictions might be used for particular roles in a party’s strategy, but handing over the command to such a turncoat shows the complete bankruptcy of the Congress and an insult to those who fight the long battle. The misplaced assertion of authority by the Gandhis in riding roughshod over the CM and MPs, is a repeat of the old mistakes that pushed regional satraps out of its fold. Mamata Banerjee, Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy are outstanding political minds who command power in their respective States as CMs of West Bengal, Assam and Andhra Pradesh. They felt suffocated in the durbar politics of the Congress, in which Mr. Sidhu has flourished. Strong regional leaders deliver results but also behave in an assertive and even authoritarian manner, as it appears to be the case with Mr. Singh. But then, humiliating them is no way to rein them in. Now that the deed has been done, perhaps the Gandhis will explain to the party workers what their rationale is, and what they expect Mr. Sidhu to deliver. In the absence of a convincing explanation, the only message is that the high command would stoop low to promote any court jester to undercut a leader who builds any independent standing. If Mr. Sidhu is the future of the Congress, that future appears bleak at this point.