Jakhar Left, Sidhu Convicted: Is It Game Over For Congress In Punjab?

Jakhar Left, Sidhu Convicted: Is It Game Over For Congress In Punjab?

by Rohit Pathania - Friday, May 20, 2022 01:52 PM IST
Jakhar Left, Sidhu Convicted: Is It Game Over For Congress In Punjab?Sunil Jakhar and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
  • The Congress party is essentially giving away all that it stood for in Punjab to other people, thanks to its inept leadership and its indifferent attitude.

    Unless the Congress comes up with something concrete following the Chintan Shivir, it is definitely 'game over’ in Punjab for them.

While the Congress party’s Chintan Shivir in Udaipur has almost turned into a farce with Rahul Gandhi’s disappearance, three disparate but significant events took place in Punjab’s political arena yesterday (19 May) that could translate into a lot of trouble for the party in the state. The ostrich-like approach of the party leadership does not augur well for them in the state, and poses the threat of pushing them towards inconsequence in Punjab.

Sunil Jakhar’s Bitter Departure

Sunil Jakhar’s surprise induction into Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has turned the tables for the Congress in the state. Expelled from all posts from the Congress, of which he held none, his move was preceded by a rather angry and anguished statement of his, delivered via a Facebook live event that pointedly referred to the Delhi Durbar ‘gang’ and Ambika Soni in particular, accusing her of creating a communal divide in Punjab.

When seen in context of the fact that Jakhar had the most support from the state legislature party and yet was not chosen to take charge as chief minister in the name of ‘Sikh’ politics, it does raise questions on where Congress’s secularist approach went missing, and even cost the party heavily. Even at the time of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s appointment as state unit chief to replace Jakhar, an emotional speech had spelt out all that was going wrong.

So what caused Jakhar to join the BJP? Two distinct theories seem to be coming up. One — trying to remain politically relevant after realising that it is the end of the road for him; or anger and urge to destroy the Congress party in Punjab forever. It may even be a mix of the two, or neither, for all we know.

However, given that as per the Narendra Modi metric of retirement he has another 10 years of active politics in him, he is a valuable asset, given his relatively clean image and pan-community support. One of the assets with him is his experience of being the leader of party (LoP) in the past, which shows his capabilities to lead an effective opposition, despite what former deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Randhawa may claim.

Jakhar's departure, however, is just the beginning; it may be clearly the case that there are several other Congress leaders willing to shift parties and join the BJP. Names like Ravneet Bittu are under the scanner for that reason for a while now.

This is perhaps the opening that the BJP is seeking in any case, and sits well with the larger trend of rejection of the mainstream polity in the form of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and Congress (I). The Akalis, propped by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) are desperately attempting to rally Panthic votes with the campaign to release ‘Sikh prisoners’, a euphemism for Khalistani terrorists.

However, barring few sections in India and the Sikh diaspora, they have not received the support they would have imagined. Moreover, association with known separatist Simranjit Singh Mann raises more questions against the Akalis, who have adopted a silence of sorts instead of answering uncomfortable questions.

Supreme Court Shocker For Navjot Singh Sidhu

Another event that spells more trouble for the Congress, and also perhaps relief, is the prison sentence given by the Supreme Court to Navjot Singh Sidhu in a past road rage case.

While his peculiar politics of suicide caused more harm than good, as a Congress leader he continues to cause perception problems to the party, and may further hit the image of the party. While he may not get ruled out electorally due to technicalities, association with a criminal shall cost the Congress heavily.

However, given how Captain Amarinder Singh wreaked havoc on the party in Punjab with his Punjab Lok Congress, it may come as no surprise if the Congress (I) finds itself between a rock and a hard place over Navjot Sidhu, who certainly carries enough weight to hurt the party.

In either situation, the net loser is Congress, which in the present situation does not have a popular face left with it except a few in some situations. With the further migration that is expected, it may whittle down to an inconsequential player in the state’s politics, and lose the plot forever in the state.

What it also implies, as this commentator has been saying, is the beginning of the end of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s political career. With this conviction, even the remote chance that he had ambitioned of becoming the chief minister of Punjab now stands obliterated. His wife and namesake Navjot Kaur Sidhu rarely had a political standing of her own making, and the attempt to be the alternate first family of Punjab’s politics now looks like a distant dream. One can never say never in politics; but for now, this never seems permanent.

Aam Aadmi Party’s Eventual Pragmatism On National Security

A third event was Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. In this meeting, which lasted for a while, the decision to deploy an additional 10 companies of paramilitary forces and cooperation with the BSF (Border Security Force) especially on the issue of anti-drone technology was agreed upon. This was a refreshing take given how everyone had seen the sitting duck that Punjab Police was reduced to with the grenade launch on its intelligence headquarters.

Clearly, sense has prevailed in the party, and there has been a realisation that cooperation on the issues of national security are critical to both Punjab as well as Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) national ambitions, given the ridicule that had followed.

AAP’s government has been receiving a lot of blowback in the past few weeks. With the disastrous power supply situation in the state, Ikk mauka AAP nu (one chance to AAP) has become the butt of jokes, with the moniker Na din’ich batti na raat nu (no electricity either in the day or in the night), summing up the government’s non-performance on the front.

As it stands, the remote control of Delhi allegations seemingly turning into a reality has invited even more ridicule. Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, the political force of farm unions, is causing much headache on the issue of MSP (minimum support price) purchases and the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) appointment rule modification — scenarios that were entirely avoidable given the security scenario prevalent.

In this situation, the meeting with the Home Minister where these issues were also raised alongside the national security challenge is a clear admission of the fact that the anarchist elements that were nurtured by them at the Singhu border of Delhi, many of whom were certainly there with political intentions, have come home to roost. Course correction will be forced upon AAP by anarchy as well as hard financial realities of the state, and as a result one may expect more pragmatism and sensible politics.

Given the Shiromani committee for ‘Sikh prisoners’, AAP will also be in an even tighter corner with respect to the security challenge, so it would not be surprising to visualise less publicised actions by the AAP government in the days to come, which will make Congress become obsolete.

One thing is becoming increasingly certain. The Congress party is essentially giving away all that it stood for in Punjab to other people, thanks to its inept leadership and its indifferent attitude. Unless the Congress comes up with something concrete following the Chintan Shivir, it is definitely 'game over’ in Punjab for them.

Rohit Pathania works in the space of renewable energy and environment. Other interests include politics and the economy.
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