The intra-party factionalism in the Congress may become stronger and voices of dissent louder in wake of the political turmoil the party faced in Punjab. Captain Amarinder Singh’s resignation on Saturday was the result of a long-drawn tussle between him and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. Not only this, the Congress has also witnessed the exit of other party leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Sushmita Dev and Priyanka Chaturvedi in other states.
Congress leaders are now afraid that infighting and political turmoil in Punjab may lead to a ripple effect in faction-ridden Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Besides Punjab, the party is in power on its own in these two states. Reports of misunderstandings have also emerged from Maharashtra time and again where the party is in alliance with the Shiv Sena and the NCP. The party is not known to be the best team player in Maharashtra, where the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena has more say in day-to-day affairs.
The unease within the party was fairly summed up by Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Sunday, who said he hoped that Amarinder Singh “won’t take any step that could cause damage to the Congress party” and stressed that all Congress leaders should put the country ahead of personal beliefs.
The Congress was put through the grind last year too. Gehlot himself faced a rebellion by Sachin Pilot, but managed to save the day. He, however, could not have come out of it unscathed. A senior leader of the Congress said, “Punjab developments are likely to have ramifications elsewhere. Dissensions within the party may get fuelled and this will weaken the party further.”
In Chhattisgarh, the tussle between chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and health minister TS Singh Deo has come out in the open with Deo seeking to enforce the “2.5 year CM” sharing formula reached at the time of Congress victory.
Party veterans are saying most issues within the Congress are “self-inflicted” to a large extent. They said personal aspirations and ambitions were too high to be fulfilled, especially when the BJP was holding its breath for the Congress to make even one wrong move.
Despite changes in top positions in the BJP, such as the recent change of guard in Gujarat, the party tried to project unity and discipline. A leader said the decisions made in Punjab will come at a cost. There is much speculation over Amarinder’s next move, who appears to be disgruntled and, in his own words, “humiliated”. In the run up to the 2022 polls, many are saying he may rebel whereas others are saying he could join the BJP.
“The aspirations of leaders are often too high to be fulfilled. The conflict within the Congress is bound to grow if you try to accommodate all aspirations, as was sought to be done in Punjab by giving the MLAs a platform to speak out against the chief minister,” said a party veteran.
The new Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi was among four cabinet ministers and several legislators who revolted against Amarinder last month. Spurred by Sidhu, they too focused on three central issues to castigate the CM: delay in justice in case of desecration of religious texts in 2015, arrest of those involved in drug rackets and scrapping power purchase agreements. They said they had lost “faith” in the Captain as he had failed to fulfil promises made before the 2017 assembly polls.
According to sources, the G-23, a group of leaders who had written to party chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking an organisational overhaul, is also waiting to see the outcome of the Punjab turmoil. A former AICC office-bearer said once any party heavyweight dissented in the open, things might snowball further.
A leader, who did not wish to be named, said he “felt sorry” when it comes to how issues in Punjab were handled. “This might lead to more internal discontent and factionalism,” said a former minister from a state facing infighting.
While Amarinder was removed for fear of possible anti-incumbency, there are those who feel that Punjab was a massive gamble going into the 2022 campaign. It would be difficult for the party to recover if it lost Punjab ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. An old party leader alleged that the leadership was promoting dissidence, and that “competence and loyalty were considered a disadvantage in the Congress these days”.
Earlier in the day, senior party leader Kapil Sibal also tweeted: “Changing Guard. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab. Age old saying: A stitch in time saves nine. Will it?”. His reference was to Congress-ruled Punjab and the sudden change of guard there.
“The resignation of Capt Amarinder Singh was an unpleasant and difficult situation. Its ramifications are yet to unfold,” said former union minister Ashwani Kumar.
“Hopefully, considering his contribution to the party and the state, his hurt feelings can be suitably assuaged in a manner consistent with his stature and dignity. This will be in the interest of the party,” Kumar added. Former union minister Salman Khurshid also said it was sad that Amarinder had resigned and hoped something could be worked out. “We are all working towards unity and hope and pray that we remove our personal differences and strengthen the party further,” Khurshid said.
Taking to Twitter, Gehlot also said every Congressman must rise above oneself and think in the interest of the country. “Sometimes the high command has to take decisions the interest of the party on the basis of feedback from MLAs and common people. I personally believe that the Congress President selects the CM at the risk of inviting displeasure of several leaders who are in the race for Chief Ministership. However when the same CM is changed, he/she is displeased and holds the decision wrong. One should listen to one’s inner voice in such moments. I think that it should be a matter of concern for all the countrymen as to what direction the country is heading towards due to Fascist forces,” he tweeted.
About Amarinder, he tweeted, “He has worked to the best of his capacity and served the people of Punjab. Capt. Amarinder Singh ji is a respected leader of the party and I hope that he will continue to work in the future also keeping the Party’s interests in the forefront.” (sic)
He has worked to the best of his capacity and served the people of Punjab. Capt. Amarinder Singh ji is a respected leader of the party and I hope that he will continue to work in the future also keeping the Party’s interests in the forefront.— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) September 19, 2021
(With PTI inputs)