News Analysis | Congress faces challenge of retaining Hindu votes in Punjab
Some political observers though feel the party State president’s attempts to woo the ‘Panthic’ votes may end up losing substantial support of Hindu vote bank.
After the Congress high command ‘cornered’ Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh into resigning from his post and making it amply clear that the Assembly election due early next year would be contested under his detractor and party’s State president Navjot Singh Sidhu, the road ahead for the party in the run-up to the poll is likely to be bumpy.
Even as 78 MLAs of the 80 on September 18 attended the meet of the Punjab Congress Legislative Party (CLP) convened by the All India Congress Committee (AICC), in which a resolution was passed, authorising the Congress president to select the new CLP leader, Capt Singh’s stance making it clear that he was “not hanging his boots anytime soon”, should set bells ringing within the party even as Mr. Sidhu has other challenges to face ahead of the Assembly poll.
While contesting the election under the aegis of Mr. Sidhu would help in galvanising the party cadre because of his mass appeal and oratory skills, the anti-incumbency factor among the public against the ruling Congress would not be easy for Mr. Sidhu to counter. Even though Mr. Sidhu has been pointing fingers at his own government, accusing it of failing to resolve several issues — be it the Bargari sacrilege, curbing the drugs and transport mafias and other unkept 2017 election promises — he would be under immense pressure to deliver on fulfilment of promises ahead of the poll only a few months away.
Over the past few months, Mr. Sidhu has been consistently hitting out at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) led by the ‘Badal’ family, in an attempt to make inroads into the ‘Panthic’ (Sikh) vote bank. In Punjab “Panthic’ voters have been traditionally associated with the Akali Dal, while Hindu voters have been traditionally seen inclined towards the Congress, especially under Capt. Singh’s ‘moderate’ face at the helm. Some political observers though feel Mr. Sidhu’s attempts to woo the ‘Panthic’ votes may end up losing substantial support of the Hindu vote bank. Moreover, with the SAD breaking alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is a good chance that the Hindu vote bank could eventually shift towards the BJP, which so far had been minimal as the BJP over the years had been contesting as a ‘junior partner’ in alliance with the Akali Dal.
“Sidhu has been targeting the Akali Dal and questioning their credentials as a ‘Panthic’ party surrounding religion related issues to garner the Sikh votes, but he is not realising in this entire episode Hindu voters, could silently shift. Capt. Amarinder has a moderate image and an acceptable leader among Hindus in Punjab, but the party has already sidelined him, which shall only cause trouble,” said Ashutosh Kumar, professor with political science department of Punjab University.
Not just outside, but within the party as well Mr. Sidhu’s trouble seems to be far from over. The 79-year-old, Capt. Singh clearly stated that he would decide his future political course of action in consultation with his supporters who have stood by him for over five decades. While the Captain may have lost the ‘number game’ yet with his ‘loyalists’ in the party he could still play spoilsport.
Already Capt Singh has hit out at Mr. Sidhu, targeting him on his ‘Pakistan connection’ and dubbing him as ‘anti-national, dangerous, unstable and incompetent’. The Opposition parties, including the SAD and the Aam Aadmi Party, have already been cornering Mr. Sidhu, accusing him of trying to ‘fool’ the people of Punjab by raising fingers at the Capt. Singh-led Congress government of which he had been a part as a Cabinet Minister.