Five things Punjab’s Amarinder-Sidhu-Channi fiasco shows about Congress

Five things Punjab’s Amarinder-Sidhu-Channi fiasco shows about Congress

Five things Punjab’s Amarinder-Sidhu-Channi fiasco shows about Congress

One of the defining attributes of a challenger is that he or she can topple the champion coming from a seeming weaker position, or goes down fighting. A challenger usually does not meticulously engineer one’s own downfall from a commanding position.

The Congress party has ceased to be the natural party of choice in India. Since the 2012 state polls and subsequently the history-altering 2014 general elections, it has been the BJP.

But with the unfolding Punjab meltdown, the Congress is at the brink of ceasing to be even the challenger. It is in free-fall, with two dynasts who have proven their incompetence beyond all doubt stubbornly at the wheel, willing to sacrifice even the most vantage ground at the altar of dynastic entitlement.

Till it eventually breaks, Congress is resolved to remain a mom-and-pop store, unwilling to hand the family business over to employees.

What does the Punjab spectacle really tell us about modern India’s oldest political party? Five things, essentially.

1. Dynasty can’t stand tall mass leaders: Captain Amarinder Singh may be ageing, aloof and inaccessible, but the man has steered the party to power several times, stood his ground unconquered through the most devastating Narendra Modi tornado even while Rahul Gandhi got uprooted from his family bastion and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could not pick up enough nerve to fight the elections.

In spite of creeping anti-incumbency, Captain seemed on his way to steering the Congress back to power in 2022.

By sacking him for an unstable, impatient upstart like Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Nehru-Gandhis once again showed their insecurity and disdain for mass leaders. Incidentally, the two tallest non-Family mass leaders the Congress produced in recent decades — Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee — are both outside the party today and may well deal a crippling blow to the party in 2024. Jyotiraditya Scindia too now joined those ranks.

2. Rahul, Priyanka swayed by glib talkers: It was increasingly evident to journalists who cover the Congress that the brother and sister love smooth talkers like Sidhu. They feel comfortable in a coterie of people who simulate the protected milieu they have grown up in. They choose advisors not for their political astuteness or grasp of the ground but Powerpoint prowess.

This twice removes them from the ground reality. The ‘babalog’ don’t get first-hand information from the grassroots and depend on well-heeled lackeys who positively hate the grassroots.

3. Generational overhaul is more of the same: Hiring opportunistic campus sloganeers like Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani is to bring in a groundswell of hate large swathes of ordinary Indians have for their irresponsible, negative politics.

At a time the Congress is struggling with its anti-Hindu image, bringing them in and reposing faith in Sidhu who openly embraced General Bajwa and Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is giving further credence to that perception. Kumar and Mevani are viewed as percussionists of anti-Hindu politics. Rahul Gandhi’s temple trips may not be able to undo the damage.

4. Congress faces wipeout in a winning state: The Congress has shown an uncanny ability to get wiped out from states it once reigned. It ceded ‘secular’ space in Uttar Pradesh to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, in Bihar to the Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, in Bengal to the Trinamool Congress and the CPM. It won’t come back to power in a hurry in Andhra, Telangana, Odisha, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Assam or Tripura.

Punjab is now an open, four- or five-cornered battle: the Congress, AAP, SAD, BJP, and Amarinder Singh, whether he decides to fight it alone or back a certain political formation. If the Congress loses, it will rapidly lose ground in a state it has always been among the top two contenders. Another state could be gone.

5. Spectre of split before 2024 grows bigger: Dissenting voices in the Congress have once again got emboldened by the central leadership’s ineptitude. Kapil Sibal called the renegade group the “23 who won’t say Ji Huzoor”, or those who refuse to be dynastic sycophants.

With Mamata Banerjee coming to national politics after her Bengal victory, Modi could be secretly happy. It makes the centrifugal force in the Congress stronger and may hasten a split, further weakening it nationally. And it presents the BJP with a more fractured Opposition.

A lose-lose for the Congress. The high in the party’s fabled ‘High Command’ is busy setting the bar lower, and soon, there may be very few left to command.