Sidhu

Navjot Singh Sidhu has certainly had his way by being selected as the new Punjab Congress president. But his victory certainly doesn’t spell gains for all in the party and Congress itself. Speculations are afloat about intra-party tension still prevalent in state unit of Congress. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was reportedly opposed to Sidhu being given this charge. But as developments indicate, the Congress High Command thought otherwise. Now, this move can be be interpreted in several ways. Instantly, one gets impression of Captain’s voice having been sidelined. However, given that “news” was in the air about Sidhu’s interaction with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders, prospects of his changing his party were afloat.

Clearly, Congress leaders at the centre were not in favour of losing a popular party member just when Punjab state elections are around the corner. They probably opted for not taking this risk. It apparently is not just the question of giving in to Sidhu’s political whim but more of not setting the stage of greater drama for him. Certainly, it cannot be ignored that he is not an old Congress member and joined this party ahead of the previous Punjab elections in 2017. Before that, he had been a member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Interestingly, prior to his formally joining Congress, speculations were afloat about chances of his opting for AAP. His decision to prefer Congress was backed by his “talks” with leaders of both parties for a considerable period.

At present, Sidhu is certainly more optimistic about a brighter political future in Punjab on remaining associated with Congress. AAP still has a long way to go. He arrived at the same conclusion in 2017 when he gave greater importance to heading towards Congress rather than AAP. There is no denying that Sidhu knows how to stir political drama and gain substantial media coverage. Paradoxically, this strategy of his can spell political headache for Congress leaders at the national as well as state level. The headache, as reports indicate, still prevails. At least, as propagated “news” suggests.

There is nothing surprising about Sidhu about weighing his political priorities in keeping with what he can probably gain. His political moves, particularly that of changing parties, are certainly not decided by whether these can help parties he chooses to leave and/or join. But thanks to his being a celebrity and media coverage gained by him, so far he has not been a loser by using this political strategy.

Against this backdrop, speculations may be voiced about whether he can be of much help to the Congress as president of its Punjab unit. Chances are some more drama is in store regarding selection of party candidates to contest assembly polls. Possibility of Sidhu asking for more tickets for his supporters cannot be ignored. This demand is likely to be in line with his apparent desire to become chief minister if Congress wins in Punjab.

As of now, in lieu of farmers’ protest, BJP and Akali Dal alliance having split, chances of Congress returning to power are fairly strongly. It may be recalled, in the 117-member Punjab assembly, in 2017, while Congress won 77 seats, AAP-20, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-15, BJP could bag only three seats. Prospects of voters favouring either AAP or BJP in the coming polls are fairly slim. This only suggests that Sidhu can gamble about elevating his stature in Punjab politics by primarily sticking with the Congress. And he has done so. In all probability, the drama created and propagated in certain quarters about his moving towards AAP was just an eyewash, not to be taken seriously.

Key Congress leaders need to be on guard about another pet strategy of Sidhu, which most politicians indulge in actively. But when Sidhu exercises it, he ensures that media attention gained by it does ruffle some political feathers. And this is his indulgence in negative campaign. Apprehension about such intra-party moves weakening Congress’ hold in Punjab cannot be totally sidelined. Sidhu’s key agenda apparently is moving ahead of political prominence held by Captain within the party and in Punjab. His eyes are set on being crowned as Punjab chief minister.

Given that certain farmers have shown black flags to his becoming Congress president hardly bear good tidings for Sidhu and the party he is associated with at present. Nonetheless, speculations are afloat that selection of Sidhu as president signals that Congress is heading for a major upheaval, wherein veteran leaders may be asked to make way for younger ones. A sudden move towards this end or even simply sending signals of this nature is least likely to help any party. Veteran party members and their supporters cannot be expected to welcome such a move. And their annoyance may spell damage for the party electorally. It would be more sensible of party leaders to focus on Punjab elections without annoying either camp, notwithstanding whatever be differences entertained between them. Rather, strong signals should be send to party leaders, including state president, on not igniting intra-party feuds. Their job is gain electoral support, target rival parties and not exercise strategies that may prove damaging for the Congress!

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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