As Captain (retired) Amarinder Singh stepped down from the Punjab Chief Minister’s post after feeling “humiliated,” it seems to have put a pause to a rather tumultuous relationship he has had with the Gandhi family in the past six years.
A school friend of former Prime Minister, late Rajiv Gandhi, and known for his proximity to the Gandhi family, Capt. Amarinder had literally forced the Gandhis in October-November 2015 to declare him as the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, a position that eventually made him the party’s chief ministerial face in 2017.
Until then, Captain Amarinder was a go-to person for the Gandhi family. In 2014, when Ms. Gandhi asked several senior leaders to contest the Lok Sabha polls, Captain Amarinder was her choice against former Finance Minister, late Arun Jaitley, from Amritsar.
Post his victory, Ms. Gandhi appointed him the deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.
But Capt. Amarinder had always his eyes set on Punjab and kept pushing for the PCC chief’s post. A year later, when in 2015, when the party was reluctant to replace the incumbent PCC chief, Partap Singh Bajwa, the then party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s appointee, the Captain explored the idea of floating his own party.
In an authorised biography of the Punjab stalwart, Captain Amarinder Singh: The People’s Maharaja , biographer Khushwant Singh noted that Ms. Gandhi was open to naming Capt. Amarinder as the PCC chief but her son, Rahul, wasn’t keen.
During a tense meeting in October 2015, Mr. Gandhi asked the Punjab leader if he had decided to float his own party. “What you've heard is absolutely correct,” the biographer quotes Capt. Amarinder as telling Mr. Gandhi.
While the Captain got what he wanted and handsomely won the 2017 Assembly elections, the equations between him and the Gandhi family changed for good.
In June this year, when Navjot Singh Sidhu raised the banner of revolt , Capt. Amarinder had come to Delhi but couldn’t meet the Gandhis in his first visit.
In contrast, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had organized a meeting between Mr. Sidhu and Mr. Gandhi at the latter’s residence around the same time.
Before Capt. Amarinder could finally meet Ms. Gandhi in the first week of July, he had to twice ‘explain’ his government’s performance before the Mallikarjun Kharge panel that was set up to resolve the infighting in the Punjab unit.
Though Capt. Amarinder had strongly opposed the appointment of Mr. Sidhu as the new PCC chief, arguing that both the party and the government cannot be headed by Jat Sikhs, the high commanded simply overruled him.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) leaders, dealing with the issue, insist that there had been no political interference by the high command and Harish Rawat , the AICC in-charge for Punjab, had publicly acknowledged Capt. Amarinder’s stature.
However, they also claimed that many Punjab MLAs had ‘bluntly’ told Mr. Rawat that the party won't win next year's Assembly polls under Capt. Amarinder. Several MLAs also complained to the Kharge panel about “the Chief Minister's inaccessibility and complete control over the administration by bureaucrats”.
Leaders of the Amarinder Singh camp , however, argued that the Gandhis were no longer comfortable with him because “he was far too independent minded”.
But clearly, the last word on Congress’ Punjab problems has not been spoken yet. The group of 23 letter writers (G-23) or the reformists are closely monitoring the new found assertion by the high command and Punjab developments could well determine the group’s next move.