Rahul-Priyanka is the new crisis management team in the Congress
by K.S. Tomar
While taking a cue from BJP high command which replaced four chief ministers in the span of six months in the hope of retaining power while acting contrary to the expectations of party cadre, the Congress high command has created a new ‘Crisis Management Team’ comprising the Rahul-Priyanka duo, obviously fully supported by the acting party president, Sonia Gandhi. So was taken a bold decision to force Amarinder Singh to resign and replace him by a Dalit face, Charanjit Singh Channi, which may act as a trendsetter to resolve an identical leadership crisis in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Political observers believe that the action taken in Punjab may act as prelude to replace Ashok Gehlot as Rajasthan CM, who has been dilly dallying for one year to fulfil the promise made by Priyanka-Rahul to the former deputy chief minister, Sachin Pilot, which had helped the high command in checking the young leader from quitting the party. Similarly, the high command will find it easy to handle the Chhattisgarh crisis also, besides dealing with dissensions in state units.
But Channi’s biggest challenge will be managing the state economy which is in doldrums and Punjab may be pushed in financial distress as Centre is not in a position to help any state, which can be attributed to the fallout of the pandemic besides a block against rescuing an opposition ruled state. Akali Dal-BJP combine had come to power in Punjab in 2006-07 and the public debt stood at Re 40,000 crores, which went up to Rs 1,53,773 crores after a decade when both parties were defeated in 2017. The trend continued during Amarinder Singh period and public debt was at Rs 1,93,659 crore (2019-20), which may be an uphill task for Channi to manage as he may opt for announcing sops prior to the polls like the recent one including free water and electricity to poor people which will further push economy into serious distress.
The emergence of Narender Modi on the national scene as a vote catcher and strong leader after winning the 2014 Parliamentary elections for his party resulted in the dwindling and weakening of Congress high command, which can be attributed to the dismal and humiliating performance of Congress party. Experts opine that whenever the top leadership ceases to be a force to win the polls for his or her party, the high command concept becomes a casualty which happened with the grand old party also. Late Mrs Indira Gandhi used to enjoy absolute power as she could ensure victory in Lok Sabha elections and the high command also became strong under Sonia Gandhi as she was credited for reviving the organization after taking over as AICC president in 1998. Congress went on winning the polls in 2004 and 2009 hence high command could dictate and appoint the CMs and state unit chiefs. But everything changed when Congress was routed in Lok Sabha polls and then in several states.
As per indications, after Punjab the party’s crisis management team is likely to take on Gehlot to force him to be flexible and adjust Pilot and his supporters in the government. Chhattisgarh is also on the plate and a decision to change some of the state presidents has been pending. But about appointing a regular national president?
A desperate move to install a Dalit as chief minister in Punjab may have political connotations, but his challenges include uniting the warring factional leaders with their ‘inflated egos’ and ‘vested interests’. Indeed, the crisis in Punjab is far from over as Amarinder Singh is keeping his cards close to his chest and he may go to any extreme to block state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s chances of becoming chief minister if Congress comes to power. Congress has put BJP in an ambiguous position by declaring that the election will be fought under the joint leadership of Channi and Sidhu, which leaves some hope for Sidhu to become CM.
(K.S. Tomar is a national columnist and political analyst based in New Delhi)