The tumultuous political drama in Punjab leading to the unceremonious exit of Captain Amarinder Singh reflects a compelling self-destructive tendency of the Congress. Undermining the authority of its own chief ministers by openly promoting and elevating dissident leaders has been an old tactic that may have been successful for the Congress in the past but has become its undoing now. The culture of subjugating the regional leaders to the whims of the high command has been the bane of the grand old party. As a result, strong and assertive regional leaders, who speak their mind, have been made to feel stifled. The Punjab imbroglio has once again highlighted this problem and put the party on a sticky wicket. Amarinder Singh, a regional strongman with an unmistakable autonomous streak who steered the Congress to victory in 2017, was humiliated and compelled to leave. The central leadership’s open encouragement to Navjot Singh Sidhu, a recent recruit to the party and a key dissident leader, his subsequent elevation as State unit chief, and possible signals to the legislators against Amarinder Singh contributed to undermining the CM’s authority. The poor handling of the internal crisis is bound to have an adverse impact on the ruling party’s prospects in the next year’s Assembly polls at a time when the main opposition parties — Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Aadmi Party — are desperately trying to regroup and regain the electorate’s trust.
The Congress stirred a hornet’s nest two months ago when it elevated Sidhu, a frequent party-hopper, and a controversial figure, as the PPCC chief, overruling objections by the Chief Minister. Giving Sidhu carte blanche to take potshots at the CM was an invitation to disaster. A deep sense of hurt voiced by Singh soon after his resignation finds resonance with the frustration and unease among a section of senior leaders about the future of the party. The issues flagged by the group of 23 senior leaders, in their letter to Sonia Gandhi in October last year, are yet to be addressed. The promised organisational overhaul and transparent elections are nowhere in sight. The exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada and a near successful rebellion by Sachin Pilot point to growing generational friction, with the young brigade, swearing loyalty to Rahul, feeling hemmed in by the old guard and finding no role for themselves in reviving the party. The larger malaise afflicting Congress is organisational management and leadership. The recent defeats in Assam, West Bengal and Kerala have further demoralised the party cadre. Unfortunately, in all the three States where Congress is in power on its own — Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, it is plagued by bitter infighting and groupism.
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