Can Amarinder give Congress a model to showcase ahead of 2019 polls?
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh does not appear to be a person, at least at this point in time, who is serious about contributing to the revival of the Congress before the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. When he led the Congress to a landslide victory in the Punjab Assembly elections in the face of a 'Modi wave', it was expected that the Grand Old Party's revival will start from Punjab through a responsible government giving a model that the party could showcase. But that has not been the case.
Sigh and his party have been marred in one controversy after the other that has been sending wrong signals to the masses. Political observers point out that the Congress has managed to sit pretty until now only because people are still angry with the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime and the failure of main Opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to recover from its electoral drubbing last year.
The chief minister reportedly chose to be away to Manali to celebrate his Pakistani friend Aroosa Alam's birthday just when the campaign was hitting the peak for the Shahkot Assembly bye-poll. Though the result would not make any difference to his government, the absence gave ample space to his political opponents.
Singh was also nowhere to be seen at the grand show of Opposition unity at Bengaluru when the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress alliance was sworn in after it managed to put forces led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah on the mat.
Just ahead of the bye-polls came in the announcement of making minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's son Karan Singh Sidhu a law officer along with several other well-connected candidates. Earlier the former cricketer's wife Navjot Kaur as made the chairperson of Punjab Warehousing Corporation. These not only drew criticism from political opponents but caused a considerable heartburn among the rank and file of the party. After considerable flak, Sidhu reportedly said his wife and son would not take up the roles.
This is second major controversy over the appointments. Earlier, the Punjab government drew flak for appointing a grandson of Beant Singh as a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) on compassionate grounds 23 years after the former CM was assassinated. Rules were allegedly bent for that appointment. Beant's other grandson Ravneet Bittu is in the Lok Sabha while his son Gurkirat is a member of the legislative assembly.
The government has also faced an onslaught from the Opposition over the ecological disaster in Beas river where considerable aquatic life has perished because of pollution caused by molasses released by a sugar mill. An instant and stern action from the chief minister was expected but what has followed is a delayed response. Things have become complicated with the union environment ministry too jumping in to carry out probe at its end.
In a state whose name itself means 'the land of five rivers', such ecological disaster in one of those five is bound to have a political repercussion.
The common folk are already pointing out that there is no difference between Singh's previous stint and the present one in terms of accessibility and the 'feudal' way of functioning. They say that they have learnt very well that 'royalty' functions in this manner.
It needs to be pointed that Singh had initiated a major political gain for his party by announcing a farm loan waiver last year. Although partial in nature, he had drawn first blood by being the first CM to make such an announcement. But he has not been able to capitalise on that. In fact his the opponents are now scoring brownie points by pointing at the continuing farmer suicides and distress.
Political analysts think Singh and the Congress still have about 10 months to steer public perception towards their favour ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Many continue to believe that a Congress revival at the central level can start from Punjab. But this can be possible only by becoming proactive and accessible. The Congress still has the advantage as the anger of the masses against SAD-BJP has not cooled yet. AAP on the other hand is still far from putting its act together once again in the state that gave it four of the 13 seats in the 2014 during the Modi wave.
Will Amarinder be able to deliver in 2019? The question remains.