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Can Punjab Congress crawl back to victory after Amarinder's full overhaul?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:40 IST

The overhaul

  • Amarinder Singh has undertaken the daunting task of an image makeover of the Punjab Congress
  • Over the last month, Amarinder has come up with several announcements and initiatives

The situation

  • Aam Aadmi Party has been on the rise in Punjab and put an end to the bi-party rule era
  • With the way things are going, the Aam Aadmi Party may just spring to victory in the next elections

More in the story

  • Only one ticket per family
  • No more red beacons
  • Will those and other initiatives give the Congress the lift it needs?

Punjab Congress Chief Captain Amarinder Singh has undertaken the daunting task of giving an image makeover to his party ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls that are due in about a year. Over the last month, Amarinder has come up with announcements and initiatives that are radically different from what is generally perceived about his party, at both the national level as well as in the other states.

After being out for a decade, it is up to Amarinder to lead the Congress back into power in Punjab.

While Punjab remained under the control of the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for the last several decades, the ground gained by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over the last couple of years in the state has put an end to that era of a bi-party rule in the state. AAP is posing a serious threat and may just walk away victorious in the next assembly polls. AAP came up with the biggest surprise in the state politics when it won four of the 13 parliamentary seats in the last Lok Sabha polls.

Also read: Battle Field Punjab: how the state's farmers are suddenly being wooed

Not undermining the threat posed by AAP and the ground level strength of the Akali cadres, Amarinder has understood that an image makeover is a must for his party that has never had the ideological cadre base like the others. Recently, he has diverted from some of the routine Congress practices.

Prashant Kishor the saviour?

To begin with, he has roped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor, to devise the road map for the party's campaign. Kishor has been instumental in planning the poll strategy for both Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kamar in the 2015 elections.

There were speculations about Kishor's role in Punjab but the All India Congress Committee has reportedly approved of his responsibility in the state. Amarinder has managed to bring in a poll strategist despite the Congress having earlier announced senior leader Ambika Soni as the campaign committee chief. This was done to placate those upset with Amarinder being handed over the reins of the party again.

No more family rule?

Another important step taken by Amarinder is to come out and say, in public, that the Congress in Punjab would only be handing out tickets to one member of a family. This has been done in view of the general view that Punjab over the decades has been under an oligarchy of sorts with only a few families ruling the state and these families too have been related to each other

There have been occasions when members of a family have held important posts. For example, the father son duo of Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal, are the chief minister and deputy chief minister of Punjab. Sukhbir's wife Harsimrat Kaur is a union minister and his brother in law Bikram Majithia is a cabinet minister.

Also read: What's making AAP click in Punjab? It's not just anger against Badals

This is similar to Amarinder's family. Amarinder is a Lok Sabha member from Amritsar, his wife Preneet is a legislator from Patiala and his son Raninder Singh had also contested the last assembly polls. The public is now questioning such concentration of political power.

Leading from the front, Amarinder has announced that the principle of one ticket per family from the assembly polls will begin from his own house. Announcing his wish to contest from Patiala, he has said that no other member of his family would contest the assembly polls.

He has been saying,"When the Punjab government holds a meeting, it seems like a gathering of Badal family. We criticize Badal, but have to set a right example and I have to start from my own family." He has already forwarded his suggestions to the party high command.

MLAs can't be chairmen of boards

Another major stand taken by Amarinder is that if the Congress comes to power in the state, none of the sitting MLAs would be made chairmen of boards and corporations. "We would like to accommodate maximum workers on the ground who work for the party's win,"

Amarinder said in a recent media interaction. "All prominent workers and leaders of the party will be accommodated suitably after the Congress formed the government. The MLAs will be entitled to becoming ministers and chief parliamentary secretaries only."

Also read: Why is BJP keen on retaining Akali alliance in Punjab?

No more red beacons

The Congress president and his team have also been trying to convey that the party intends to do away with the VIP culture prevailing in the state. Recently the Congress legislative Party leader Charanjit Singh Channi and other MLAs have announced that they would not be using read beacons atop their cars. They have termed this as a move to get closer to the people.

Tickets only for those who deserve it

Futhermore, Amarinder has said that the main criteria for ticket distribution would be based upon merits and winnability of the candidate. This measure has been put in place despite thee fact that some of his loyalists might be denied an opportunity to contest. He has pointed that in 2007, the Congress lost by one per cent votes, in 2012 it was just 0.8 per cent. Some tickets were wrongly distributed. According to him, of the those 39 tickets wrongly distributed, the party managed to win only six.

Party manifesto

Probably for the first time, the Congress has adopted a more professional approach to the forthcoming polls. A dozen member sub-committee has been formed to study, analyze and suggest solutions to the important issues that the citizens of Punjab are facing and prepare a blueprint for the party manifesto.

The committee includes former state finance minister Manpreet Badal and former chief secretaries KR Lakhanpal and Jai Singh Gill, former vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Dr K S Aulakh and noted economist Dr Sucha Singh Gill and others. The team is studying issues like drugs, financial mess, farm crisis,unemployment, flight of industry from Punjab, infrastructure development apart from other socio-political issues.

Also read: Find out why Badal's sop story will make Punjab's finances weep

Face to face connect

A special attempt is being made by Amarinder himself to reach out to the youth of the state. He has been holding interactions with students of educational institutions both personally as well as through video conferencing.

Amarinder has also got down to reaching out to the Dalit population in the state that constitutes more than 30 per cent of Punjab's population. While the general perception has been that the Dalits have been Congress supporters but this has not been reflected in the voting patterns and in the last several elections, it has reportedly been the Akalis winning on reserved seats. The Congress is now trying to woo the Dalits and as a major initiative has organized a two day conclave at Ludhiana to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Bhim Rao Ambedkar.

More in Catch:

Mr Badal's drug war: Punjab has 70% addiction. He insists it's just 0.7!

Congress's decision to opt out of Khadoor Sahib is a good move

Khadoor Sahib by-poll: a precursor to Punjab assembly elections

First published: 16 February 2016, 12:47 IST