By Abhijit Chatterjee
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh
The Congress victory in Punjab is actually Capt Amarinder Singh’s win as he had waged a sustained campaign without much help from the central leadership. He took on the Akalis head-on and repeatedly brushed aside AAP, disdain that was, in retrospect, justified. The win coincides with his 75th birthday, and, after his announcement that this would be his last election, what better way to take a final bow?
In Punjab the Congress is returning to power after a gap of one decade. While Punjab has been one of the party’s strongholds for years, its rout in the state in 2014 general elections had not only painted a grim picture for the party in the border state but had also left the rank and file of the party totally in disarray. That Capt Amarinder Singh could galvanise the party to bounce back and make a comeback and make all trends and opinion polls immaterial should surely go down as one of the finest hours of the former Maharaja.
The party’s win in Punjab is even more significant because of two things — the party won totally on its own and in a three-cornered contest for the first time ever in the state — both achievements rarely associated with the Congress in the past couple of years.
Many political observers are of the view that the win in Punjab will have an impact on the neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi where Congress incumbent state governments have been voted out of power in the past four years. Also, the results should have an impact on the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh which goes to the polls in November-December this year. Of course, the challenge of the BJP in the hill state will be formidable.
The next challenge for the Captain will be cabinet formation as also portfolio allocation particularly with the induction of senior and popular leaders like Navjot Singh Sidhu and other heavyweights of the party as well as several rebels from the SAD who had contested the polls on the Congress ticket.
Now is probably the time to see whether Sidhu will be installed as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state as many had prophesized prior to the elections. That this step, if it comes about, will upset a number of senior leaders in the state unit cannot be overemphasized.
The new legislators are scheduled to meet in the state capital tomorrow where obviously Capt Amarinder Singh would be elected as leader of the Congress Legislature Party but the question will remain about when will the new government will formally take oath.
Even when the government is formed it will have myriad problems to tackle, the most serious being the empty coffers of the state. Already Capt Amarinder Singh has appealed to the Central leadership to accept the demands of the state. Add to that the problem of large-scale drug use and rising unemployment the hands of the new Government in the state will be more than full.
The writer is former New Editor, The Tribune, and is currently Professor Emeritus, Chitkara School of Mass Communication, Chitkara University.