While the two major opposition parties namely Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have started their election campaign for 2022 Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections, the ruling Congress party in the state is still in slumber and the dissidence continues to haunt the party.
Despite the submission of the report by a three-member committee headed by Malikarjun Kharge, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the party president Sonia Gandhi has not acted on the report. Is she waiting for the doom of the Congress party in Punjab? This is the question being asked by the political pandits in the state of Punjab.
The Congress party is already in disarray at the national level owing to the weak leadership of Sonia Gandhi who is now surrounded by her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who are working through Twitter.
The Congress President has failed to revamp the party at the national level and no election of the office bearers is held at the national level despite strong demand from 23 leading members of the party who have been sidelined now.
The senior party leaders like Jatin Prasada and Scindia have left the Congress and joined the BJP. The Rajasthan Congress Committee is also witnessing dissidence and Sachin Pilot is restive that the promises made with him have not been fulfilled.
In Punjab, Sonia Gandhi formed three members committee consisting of Malikarjun Kharge, Harish Rawat, General Secretary and Incharge Punjab Affairs and Jai Parkash Aggarwal a former Delhi MP to solve the Punjab tangle.
This Committee met more than 150 leaders of the Punjab Congress including some dissidents, present ministers and legislators and also one on one meetings with leaders like Navjot Singh Sidhu, Captain Amarinder Singh, Sunil Jakhar, Partap Singh Bajwa, Pargat Singh and Charanjit Singh Channi.
Two weeks have passed since Kharge Committee submitted its report to Sonia Gandhi and also held a meeting with her.
Kharge Committee has suggested that Navjot Singh should be suitably rehabilitated in the party organization. The committee has also recommended that the party base at the district level should be strengthened and representation to the Dalits should also be given.
Navjot Singh Sidhu wants to become the president of the Punjab Congress to which Amarinder Singh is opposed and he wants a Hindu to be the president of the state Congress. In fact, he is in favour of Sunil Jakhar to continue as president of the Punjab Congress. Kharge Committee has also recommended that Navjot Sidhu could be made deputy Chief Minister and there can be one Dalit Deputy Chief Minister as well.
Despite the recommendations of the Kharge Committee, dissidents are continuing to make allegations against the Chief Minister that he is not taking any action against the Badals in the case of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and other election promises of annulment of the power agreements made by the SAD-BJP government have not been annulled, no action has been taken on the report of the Special Task Force (STF) regarding the drugs trade in Punjab which is lying in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
As a matter of fact, the failure of the Congress President to act on the Kharge Committee report is causing great harm to the Congress in Punjab and the Congress workers are feeling disheartened. Contrary to this, the youth wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal has been activated by Sukhbir Badal and they are very active in the state.
Sukhbir Badal has entered into an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and has given 20 seats to the BSP while the Akali Dal would contest 97 seats. BJP used to get 23 seats while in alliance with the Akali Dal. The Akali leaders are feeling very confident with the alliance with the BSP and it has come as a booster for both the parties. The BSP contested 111 seats in 2017, but lost on all seats and even the deposits of the candidates got forfeited.
Punjab has the highest population of Dalits in India more than 32 percent. The Akali Dal which is still being haunted by the incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib which took place during its regime, feels that the Dalit vote will help it win the Vidhan Sabha election and return to power.
At the same time, the hardliner Sikhs are also becoming active against the Akali Dal are demanding action against the culprits of the sacrilege incidents and police firing at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in which two Sikh youths were killed.
After the rejection of the report of SIT under former IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap the Punjab government has set up a new SIT as directed by the High Court. This SIT is working day and night to complete the investigations in a short time and submit its report to the high court and put up challan against the culprits.
Some arrests have also been made in connection with the sacrilege issue and the arrested persons belong to Dera Sacha Sauda of Ram Raheem who is undergoing imprisonment in a rape case of two female followers and the murder of one journalist. Congress is in a tight position at present and will face trouble if the differences among the leaders are not settled immediately.
The Aam Aadmi Party which is the main opposition party in the Punjab
Vidhan Sabha has also started an aggressive campaign against Amarinder Singh government. The party is being led by Bhagwant Mann, Sangrur MP and Harpal Singh Cheema is the leader of the opposition in the Vidhan Sabha. Cheema is a Dalit leader. Raghav Chadha a senior leader of the party has been made co-incharge of the party in Punjab.
Both Akali Dal and the AAP are making attacks on the Congress government pertaining to the alleged scam of embezzlement of scholarship money of Dalit students and lately the sale of vaccine dozes and purchase of Fatehkits for Covid 19 patients. Chief Minister has outrightly rejected the allegations of scams.
Interestingly Amarinder Singh is not bothered about the propaganda against him as the Kharge Committee has also suggested that he should remain commander of the team in Punjab. He has also received a booster with the joining of three rebel MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party including Sukhpal Singh Khaira who was the leader of the opposition in the Vidhan Sabha.
Besides, Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Badal, there is another Akali Dal in the fray this time known as Akali (Sanyukt) which is headed by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa who rebelled against the Badals and resigned from the Shiromani Akali Dal.
The Akali Dals led by Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahampura have united and Brahampura has been made its patron. This Akali Dal has its base in Malwa and Majha regions of the state and would cut the votes of the Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Badal. Dhindsa is also busy in organizing his outfit for the Vidhan Sabha polls.
Punjab is heading for a fierce political battle in 2022 Vidhan Sabha poll. People are watching the developments in the Congress keenly.
KS Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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