Amarinder-Sidhu, Gehlot-Pilot spat is good news for Gandhis

·Columnist
·4-min read
Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh along with cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu at a function in Amritsar in 2017. Photo: Gurpreet Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh along with cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu at a function in Amritsar in 2017. Photo: Gurpreet Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

A crisis is brewing in Punjab Congress. 

Sonia Gandhi, the interim Congress president, has formed a three-member committee to look into the grievances of the state leaders against the alleged dictatorial attitude of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. The committee is expected to submit its report soon to Sonia Gandhi.

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who jumped from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress, is leading the rebellion. Amarinder Singh, who turned it around for the party in 2017 state elections, is not in the mood to budge even an inch to give in to the rebels.

Amarinder, a strong regional figurehead, and one of the three chief ministers left of the Congress party in the country, doesn’t reportedly share a good rapport with the Gandhi family. Supporters of the chief minister allege that the rivals are being fanned by the Gandhi scion as Sidhu is supposedly close to them.

On the other hand, the crisis in Rajasthan that had been averted with Sachin Pilot returning to Congress with his loyal supporters, has begun to simmer once again. Pilot has highlighted that ten months have passed since the resolution was worked upon, but none of the promises made to him have been fulfilled.

A Cabinet expansion is still due in the state and he hasn’t been rehabilitated either in the central organisation or in state politics.

Congress leader Sachin Pilot and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at AICC headquarters in New Delhi. Photo: K Asif/The India Today Group via Getty Images
Congress leader Sachin Pilot and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at AICC headquarters in New Delhi. Photo: K Asif/The India Today Group via Getty Images

The Gandhis, starting from Indira to Rajiv to Sonia, have traditionally encouraged factionalism in state units. This strategy has helped them to maintain their grip over the party.

Only one minister managed to stay in Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet for the entire 5-year term. By mid-1988, he had carried out a total of 23 Cabinet reshuffles in 38 months. This feudal mindset of showing who the boss is was a compensation to the constant insecurity of realising that Rajiv had little experience or expertise in governance (Source: Natwar Singh’s Book).

In the seven large States where the Congress was in power (300 Lok Sabha seats), there were 3 chief ministers on an average during the 5-year period of Rajiv's reign. He changed chief ministers on a regular basis. Rajiv kept interfering in state units, weakening them over time. Instead of leadership emerging through local development and competition, leadership emerged on the basis of whims and fancies of the central leadership.

Admittedly this tendency of interference and encouraging groupism has increased under Sonia who doesn’t enjoy the same clout as Indira or Rajiv. Sonia is now the longest-serving Congress president. Initially she faced rebellion from the Sharad Pawar and the Mamata Banerjee camps.

She was able to establish her authority after leading the party to a surprise victory in 2004 general elections. Always wary of regional satraps, she encouraged two-three rival camps in state units.

After the loss in 2014 and 2019 general elections, state after state going to the BJP, the insecurity of the Gandhis has only increased. This has been further complicated by the fact that both Rahul and Priyanka have not shown that they possess the qualities to take the party forward at a time when BJP is expanding at a fast pace.

In Chhattisgarh, there are three power centers: Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Tamradhwaj Sahu and T S Singh Deo. In Kerala, factionalism is listed as one of the prime reasons why the Left Front managed to retain power. In Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia left the party, along with 22 MLAs, leading to the downfall of the Congress government.

The big regional satraps are caught in dosing fire in their backyard that they never think nor are they ever in a position to challenge the leadership of the Gandhis.

After a dismal show in 4 states and 1 union territory in 2021, the Gandhis are facing the heat. Priyanka was managing the Assam campaign where the party couldn’t win despite a significant anti-CAA sentiment. Rahul was leading the campaign in Kerala where the Left Front broke a 4-decade trend and emerged victorious. The party failed to open its account in Bengal where it occupied the Leader of Opposition chair.

The Gandhis have lost the moral right to continue at the helm. Rebel group G-23 is breathing down its neck to hold elections for the president's post which has been postponed due to COVID-19. One of the prominent members of G-23, Jitin Prasad, has left the party and joined the BJP.

G-23’s shortcoming is that they lack a mass leader. They would need to prop up a strong face to take on the Gandhis, but the three chief ministers, who are strong regional satraps and mass leaders and who can pitch for the national president role, are caught up in fire fighting. 

Infighting and lack of consensus might help Gandhis to retain the top position or appoint a proxy.

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