Punjab’s Central Congress Problem

Centralisation of power among parties is hardly new, the satrapis-as-local branches model having been honed by Congress under Indira Gandhi. The recent ‘reboot’ of the Gujarat Cabinet along with its CM shows it is no longer a Congress trademark. But whether conducted by Congress or BJP, deficiency of internal democracy in parties seems to be on the rise. And that can’t be good for democracy. And certainly not for a Congress that seems to find ‘oppositionalism’ too heady to want to stay on as, or become, government.

Being in government changes oppositional gameplay. The latter seeks to dethrone the former by any legal means, understandably, if not virtuously. But once in government, more sober rules apply. Amarinder Singh, serving his second stint as Punjab chief minister, knew this as one of the major hold-outs in an otherwise almost BJP-ruled landscape. It was not just the Congress electoral victory at the 2017 assembly polls that cemented Singh’s political quotient, but also his ability to oversee a stable administration in the last four years. Groupism and the party ‘high command’ have forced him to quit, and make way for Charanjit Singh Channi, whose chief appeal for many Congress veterans would be that he is not Navjot Singh Sidhu, rebel appointed as state party chief.

Popular anger in Punjab against the three farm laws against which farmers have been agitating, and BJP’s breakup with the Akalis, may have led the Congress leadership to believe that they could take the risk of upsetting the incumbent leadership purely to demonstrate the Congress central leadership’s will. It is petty for the Gandhis to assert their leadership at the expense of a loyal warlord quitting in humiliation. They would do well to not extend the self-harm to other states.

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