Navjot Singh Sidhu

Political cards being gradually tried ahead of assembly elections in two crucial states- Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – cannot yet be viewed as symbols of master strategies. The simple explanation is that frustration is quite strongly visible in political parties heading the two state governments. This in itself seems sign of party heads on both sides being a little flustered with apparently their political base in the two states not being as strong as it was five years ago. Perhaps, in due course of time, this shall settle down without any change in priority of two chief ministers to return to power.

Paradoxically, though farmers’ protest together with Covid-tension spells the going fairly fine for Congress in Punjab, recent developments seem to ring alarm bells for this party. One of these is bickering within its own ranks, primarily because of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s moves. Besides, six members of this party recently crossed into camp of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab. With Sidhu being a celebrity, the party cannot afford to ignore him. At the same time, the party cannot take risk of going overboard to please him. The six who have shifted their political loyalties are not considered as very important for the Congress.

Perhaps, what seems more disturbing for Congress is decision of its key rival – Akali Dal to align with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to contest assembly elections. True, alarmed by nature of farmers’ protest, Akali Dal parted company with BJP last year in September. In an attempt to win over farmers, Akali Dal leaders are laying stress on it being imperative for Modi government to take note of farmers’ protest against farm bills. But famers are certainly not unaware of BJP’s stand on this issue. Also, it cannot be forgotten that Akali Dal and BJP, aligned for around 24 years, since 1996, have fought together six assembly and five Lok Sabha elections. Also, their alliance has been in power in Punjab for 15 years. From a common person’s perspective, if elections were not less than a year way, Akali Dal and BJP may have still remained aligned.

In addition, buzzword of BJP being a silent partner to Akal Dal-BSP’s alliance cannot be sidelined. It may be recalled, BSP’s performance in Punjab has not improved over the years. In 2017, though the party contested all seats, only one candidate was able to save his deposit. There was also a fall in votes gained by BSP. Mayawati is probably hopeful that alliance with Akali Dal will favour it in 2022. Will it?

There is a view that Akali Dal-BSP alliance will help it win Dalit-votes, who constitute around 32% of Punjab’s population. Interestingly, Dalit-votes played a significant role in helping Congress win 2017 elections, despite BSP having contested all the seats. Considering that BSP on its strength could not attract Dalit votes, prospects of it doing so in alliance with Akali Dal are lesser. Besides, BJP is least likely to welcome rise of BSP in any state. And it and other rivals may be expected to do so in Punjab too by trying strategies to cut into votes of BSP candidates.

Prospects of this alliance doing well are likely to be dependent quite strongly on on how effectively Congress leaders manage politicking in their quarters. Would it be fair to assume that Sidhu’s political tantrums can harm the party? The old cricketer is certainly succeeding in gaining media coverage for his attempts to strengthen his hold in Congress. Here, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh must be credited for not yielding much ground on his front and making efforts to quell dissent from several quarters within Punjab. Chances are that his politicking will prove favourable for Congress.

Interestingly, political jugglery being tried by BJP and Congress leaders seems directed in similar directions in UP and Punjab, respectively. BJP master strategists cannot afford to bruise UP CM’s ego nor can let only him have his way. They cannot also remain oblivious of Yogi Adityanath’s handling of Covid-crisis in UP having damaged his and party’s image. They are also well aware that question of Yogi feeling pleased at being snubbed does not prevail. It isn’t without reason that new party member, Jitin Prasada (formerly in Congress) chose to seek Yogi’s blessings. This may be viewed as a tacit attempt to pamper Yogi’s political ego without going overboard to please him.

Congress is trying similar moves in Punjab. Sidhu’s ego, when bruised doesn’t take long to receive substantial media coverage. Though this does ring alarm bells, stalwarts in the party seem fairly conscious that they cannot afford to hurt others in attempt to please one ego. Besides, media coverage – at this stage – cannot be assumed to spell electoral gains in 2022. Notwithstanding attempts of rival parties to try and make noise against the present state government, prospects of farmers’ protest favouring Congress cannot be sidelined.

Let us accept it, who is not a “power-grabber” in politics? The ones holding key reins of their respective parties fall in the same bracket. Without yielding their own hold, political strategies, at this stage, demand their being a little more sensitive to attention seekers, lest they become more problematic. Sidhu is not Jitin Prasada who can be expected to seek “blessings” from party leaders to please them. Sidhu being Sidhu needs to be paid more attention, if nothing else to avoid intra-party negative campaigning against those who matter politically in Punjab.

Intra-party power struggle does spell frustration for party members with high ambitions in both the camps, whether it is Yogi in BJP or Sidhu in Congress. But continuance of the same is least likely to spell gains for either and/or their respective parties. Be it UP or Punjab, politicking for the two parties hoping to return to power, at present, needs to be focussed on not going overboard in either pampering or bruising political egos of their key members!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).


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