Congress plans to appoint Sidhu as Punjab unit president
The Congress central leadership appears to have made up its mind to appoint the rebellious Navjot Singh Sidhu as the Punjab unit president amid a fierce fratricidal strife that may have significantly weakened the party in the state.
The formal announcement may come within the next couple of days, granting Sidhu his wish for a leadership role in the upcoming Assembly elections.
Though chief minister Amarinder Singh, who is bitterly opposed to the cricketer turned politician, will remain at the helm, the central leadership is clearly investing more in Sidhu whose popularity among the people has soared because of the sacrilege issue that he has so forcefully raised.
There will still be a balancing act with two working presidents, probably Hindus including a Dalit, to prevent the BJP’s traditional voters from shifting towards the main challenger, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws has badly dented the BJP’s support base — primarily Hindus — and the Congress wants to slice away a major chunk of that vote. Both the chief minister and the PCC president being Sikh doesn’t appear to give out an inclusive message.
The Congress, which had been seeing the Punjab elections next year as a cakewalk because of the farmers’ protest, has suddenly got sucked into the vortex of an internal feud.
Sidhu had been publicly accusing the chief minister of complicity with the Badal family (of the Akali Dal) and deliberate inaction in the 2015 case of alleged desecration of a religious text and subsequent police firing at Faridkot, bringing the government and the party into disrepute. The controversies damaged Amarinder’s image also which, many senior leaders believe, was on a gradual decline because of non-fulfilment of promises and an autocratic style of functioning.
A Punjab Congress leader told The Telegraph: “The national media has failed to gauge the extent of damage to the Captain’s (Amarinder) reputation over the past few years. But for the farmers’ agitation, his game would have been over long ago. Captain has an entirely different image here. There was no question of him being projected as the party’s face in this election. It is all his own doing; he invited trouble for himself. Had he performed well as chief minister, Sidhu couldn’t have attacked him publicly and survived.”
Sidhu is popular among the masses but not among the Congress leaders and MLAs. “He is also a loner,” said a party MP, pointing to Sidhu’s apparent arrogance and immaturity while conceding that he was in a position to draw crowds and fetch votes for the party.
The central leadership might have received that input through surveys before bulldozing the chief minister’s strong objection to his appointment as the state chief. Rahul Gandhi was still cautious but Priyanka Gandhi is said to have forced the decision.
A majority of the leaders, however, are apprehensive about conflicts and mishaps as expecting a perfect coordination between Sidhu and Amarinder during the election campaign would be like asking for the moon. Sidhu would like to have a say in appointments in party and candidate selection, which may become a major cause for confrontation with the chief minister.
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s job doesn’t end by appointing Sidhu as the state chief and they will have to steer the ship through turbulent waters till the elections, many believe.
The task of managing contradictions will be easier if the Congress manages to resolve the core issue of the party’s national president within the next few weeks. The vacuum has created fertile ground for wild speculation and rumours; the news of Kamal Nath being made the party’s working president created a huge buzz throughout the day on Thursday.
What triggered the speculation was a meeting between Nath and Sonia Gandhi. It is no secret that Nath has emerged as Sonia’s main trouble-shooter after Ahmed Patel’s demise and he would indeed get an important role in the party if Rahul finally refuses to return as president.
The formula of four vice-presidents or one working president to assist Sonia is very much on the table for several months now.
A Congress general secretary said: “I have answered over a hundred calls today on Kamal Nath becoming party president despite being completely in the dark about it.”