With the appointment of Navjot Singh Sidhu as the Punjab Congress chief, the Gandhis - mother Sonia and son-daughter duo Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra - have conveyed a message to all dissidents that 'High Command' is still the most powerful touchpoint in the 136-year-old party’s system.
Publicly undermining Punjab chief minister and late Rajiv Gandhi’s school friend, Captain Amarinder Singh, the Gandhis prevailed to appoint Sidhu the party state chief. So is the cricketer-turned-politician, who was the BJP’s face in Punjab for 13 years before switching over the Congress in 2017, a better bet? Maybe not, but a sure message to the partymen - who in their muffled voices had raised questions over the leadership of Rahul Gandhi - power centre is where Gandhis are.
Messaging at the cost of defeat in Punjab?
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tried virtually every trick in the trade to stop archrival Navjot Sidhu from getting the post of the state chief. But it seems Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, who are said to be the brains behind the move, did not budge.
Captain Amarinder Singh, a towering and well-respected leader who brought victory to the Congress at the time when the Modi juggernaut was sweeping states, has not been an active member of the Gandhi circle and possibly his independent streak created more problems for him. The 79-year-old leader was preparing for 2022 state assembly polls and, according to media reports, ignored the Gandhis-appointed man for the post of state general secretary - Kamal Nath.
Sonia Gandhi's move to install the controversial Nath — who was indicted by the Nanavati Commission for his alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots — as Punjab minder invited a lot of backlash from the opposition and muffled rebellion from the party also.
Funny it is and tragic too that Kamal Nath's name was even considered for the Punjab post while 10 Janpath burnt the midnight oil for a leader who could 'take along all factions'.
Kamal Nath, however, resigned from the post three days after taking over the role. But for the Gandhis it was a sign of rebellion against the high command decision. And Navjot Sidhu is the next step.
Although Amarinder Singh has said that he would go by the Congress high command’s decision, and he has but the tension is visible more than ever. The Chief Minister has refused to entertain or welcome the new state chief, and so did some of his ministers, who said that Sidhu will first have to sort out his differences with the chief minister. The Big Boss move?
What is the Gandhis' game plan for Punjab?
With opposition parties in the state looking disorganised and listless, the Gandhis have taken a calculated risk. The victory seems inevitable for the Congress under Captain Amarinder but a possible rebellion by him and a section of disgruntled MPs and MLAs could be a make or break for the party, which has shrunk to just five states. If that happens, the outcome for Congress possibly would be A sure-shot defeat from the jaws of what currently looks like a sure-shot victory in the 2022 state elections.
But it seems like the Gandhis are okay to take this hit to establish the ‘order’ in the party. After all, it is just another state!
The message is clear to the detractors or naysayers that they must fall in line or fall out. And the message has gone far and deep. Veteran Congress leaders like Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana, Siddaramaiah in Karnataka, Ghulam Nabi Azad in Jammu and Kashmir, and Kapil Sibal in Delhi, who think their decades-long ideological or political loyalty to the Congress and even mass base gives them the right to raise the voice about happenings in the party mistaken. They can’t raise their voices against the party = Gandhis.