Elections 2019: A win and a problem for Congress in Punjab

(by K Balakumar)

The Congress has received an unprecedented drubbing across North India with Punjab alone providing the saving grace.

PATIALA, INDIA - MAY 19: Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, his son Raninder Singh, daughter Jai Inder Kaur and wife and Congress candidate Preneet Kaur show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting their votes during the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha elections, at Government College for Girls, on May 19, 2019 in Patiala, India. Voting has ended for the seventh and final phase of Lok Sabha elections. In the 7th phase, 59 seats will go to polls across seven states and one Union territory to decide the fate of 909 candidates. Among the key states voting today are Punjab (13), West Bengal (9), Madhya Pradesh (8) and Uttar Pradesh (13). The counting of votes will take place on May 23. (Photo by Bharat Bhushan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In the 13 seats in Punjab, the Congress has managed to wrest 8 — a five seat increase from its tally in 2014. Captain Amarinder Singh, who also gave the Congress the much-needed State Assembly victory in 2017, should logically be quietly celebrating his impressive show amidst carnage elsewhere. Instead, he is busy trouble-shooting as his feud with the colourful and contentious Navjot Singh Sidhu threatens to become a full-blown war.

Amarinder Singh has not only held Navjot Sidhu responsible for the party's losses in places like Bathinda, he also has made it clear that he intends changing the portfolio of Sidhu in his Cabinet. Sidhu is currently the Minister of Local Government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs and Museums.

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu arrives at Pakistani border post Wagha near Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Sidhu led his country's delegation to Pakistan for the groundbreaking ceremony of Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday, to give access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

The Amarinder Singh-Navjot Singh fight is, in a sense, symptomatic of the larger problems that afflict the Congress party all over the country. Amarinder Singh is one State Congress leader who is his own person and does not look to the Congress high-command for anything. He has been running the affairs of the Congress party in Punjab as a separate State entity.

But since he has been delivering the results and is a strong bulwark against the Akali Dal (and the BJP), the high-command has been putting up with him. But even as his clout became stronger, they air-dropped Sidhu into the scheme of things.

Sidhu, who moved to the Congress from the BJP, with his colourful and outlandish ways has been a hindrance to Amarinder's brand of politics. A former army man himself, Amarinder wears his nationalism on his sleeve, and Sidhu's visit to Pakistan to attend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony (and his hugging of Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Bajwa) did not sit well with the Punjab Chief Minister. Amarinder did not like Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan for the ground breaking ceremony of Kartarpur corridor either.

Amarinder, who is accusing Sidhu of working behind the scenes to oust him as the Chief Minister, apparently put his foot down when the Congress think-tank wanted to give a party ticket to Navjot Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu to contest the LS polls.

This further drove a bigger wedge between the two and the shadow of their fight was cast all through the campaign.

Amarinder knows that Sidhu has the ear of Rahul and Priyanka. But he still intends to take up the matter with them to sideline Sidhu.

Now that Amarinder has won crucial 8 seats for Congress, his wishes cannot be ignored by the Congress. If the murmurs in Chandigarh are any indication, Sidhu's wings will soon be clipped.