With Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh having declared that he will not contest any more elections, the Congress, which returned to power in the state last month after a decade, has two important issues to mull over.
As Amarinder Singh settles down in his second innings as Chief Minister (his earlier stint was from 2002-2007) to run the Punjab government and fulfil the promises that he and his party made to the electorate, the Congress not only has to worry about the new government's performance but also about grooming a suitable leader who can take over the mantle for the 2022 assembly elections.
In Amarinder’s new cabinet, the biggest, and perhaps politically tallest, names are those of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.
The two have a lot going in their favour, especially age – both are in their early 50s.
Sidhu enjoys the status of a national celebrity who is popular in Punjab too. He has a completely clean image, is a good orator, has mass appeal and is quite full of energy.
He is, moreover, a Jat Sikh, Punjab's politically-dominant community, and identifies with the youth too. Earlier in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he remained MP from Amritsar from 2004 to 2014. He joined the Congress only this January.
Manpreet, also a Jat Sikh and the estranged nephew of five-time Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, is quite well-known in Punjab thanks partly to the surname that he carries, and appeals to some sections of the people.
Having fallen out with his uncle and cousin, Sukhbir Singh Badal, in 2010, Manpreet charted his own course through a new political party – People's Party of Punjab (PPP).
Both Manpreet and the PPP fared badly in the 2012 Assembly polls and the party became politically defunct.
Manpreet joined the Congress last year after Amarinder came to the helm in Punjab Congress affairs.
But both Sidhu and Badal also have a major negative in the Congress set-up.
The Negatives Associated
Both Badal and Sidhu are "outsiders" in the Congress scheme of things – having been in the party for just a few months and over one year, respectively.
It will take a lot of courage for the Congress to opt for these “outsider” leaders at the cost of its own leadership in the state.
The party, which swept the recent assembly polls – winning 77 of the 117 assembly seats – also saw some of its stalwarts being defeated or not contesting at all.
Former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, one of the senior-most Congress leaders, lost the election, as did the suave Sunil Jakhar. Another senior leader, Lal Singh, opted out this time to pave the way for his son.
None of the top Congress leaders, except for Amarinder, has the mass appeal across Punjab to take the party to another victory. Sidhu definitely has an edge in that, with Badal coming a close second.
It's up to the Congress to opt for a new generation of leaders or settle for the old guard in a state that has provided the only light of hope for the party in an otherwise BJP-dominated electoral scene in several states.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com. This article has been published in an arrangement with IANS)
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