1. Rahul Gandhi is being bold. He is no longer bound by the compulsion to defer to the old guards in the party who curried favour with his mother Sonia Gandhi. Though never hiding his feelings about them, Mr. Gandhi has been unsure of confronting them. By toppling Amarinder Singh in such an unceremonious manner, Mr. Gandhi has signalled that the gloves are off. What comes next is the question that is unsettling many a Congress veteran – the axe will fall on more.
  2. The other two Chief Ministers of the party, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Bhupesh Baghel in Chattisgarh, are feeling the heat. Both have defied Mr. Gandhi’s wishes in bulldozing all other leaders in the State and concentrating all powers in their own hands. While both have played their politics well in keeping the siblings pleased, Mr. Gandhi has realised that it involves a continuing erosion of his own authority.
  3. The saturation of the Bharatiya Janata Party is emboldening Mr. Gandhi. He has dared those who want to quit the Congress to leave. He is also willing to welcome those who are willing to join the Congress. This boldness is linked to the diminishing desirability of the BJP in the eyes of power seekers. Many defectors to the BJP are finding themselves lost, and even humiliated. Many defectors to the BJP want to return to their original parties, for instance in Maharashtra. Congress leaders have narrowing options — either fall in line with Mr. Gandhi or risk their reputation and prestige for an uncertain future outside the party. Amarinder Singh is himself caught in a bind . He has limited options — any association with the BJP, which is seen as anti-farmer in Punjab, can be suicidal for him.
  4. The attempt to make a virtue out of a compulsion, in the selection of Mr. Channi, and the emphasis on an apparent social justice politics is more complex than many fans of Mr. Gandhi would like us to believe. It is not impossible that the Congress can mobilise the Dalits and OBC castes ; but that might need more than the accidental appointment of a Dalit Chief Minister. As the BJP pointed out, the Congress’s history haunts it. In 2004, Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Dalit, was made Chief Minister in Maharashtra in the last few months, and after winning the polls under his leadership, replaced him with Vilas Rao Deshmukh. In Rajasthan in 1980, the party made Jagannath Pahadia Chief Minister in the last one year, and after winning the polls replaced him with Shiv Charan Mathur. Mr. Channi senses the possibility of such a fate, and has already upped the ante by building a profile for himself. If the party retains power in Punjab, he would likely assert himself, as Jitan Ram Manjhi did in Bihar some years ago. He was handpicked by Nitish Kumar to keep the chair warm and behave as an obedient subordinate but Mr. Manjhi had other plans. Accidental as his selection may have been, Mr. Channi has become a factor in Congress politics. And he is unlikely to act to the script written by the Gandhis.
  5. Then there is the question of whether the Congress benefits from the appointment of a Dalit Chief Minister in Punjab at all. Dalits are traditionally Congress supporters and any additional mobilisation of Dalits in the party’s favour may be bit too optimistic, as this piece argues. The party may also suffer among the Hindu voters who have been inclined towards it traditionally.
  6. Finally, there is a risk of yet another round of communal politics in Punjab. All reports indicate that the communal cauldron of Sikh fundamentalism is posing a danger yet again. International communal organisations and Pakistan are fomenting trouble and there is unrest among farmers. Pakistan is emboldened after the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mr. Gandhi’s handpicked party chief in Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu, has been trying to outdo the Shiromani Akali Dal in Sikh communalism. That is a dangerous game at several levels. The precarious border State can be pushed into a turmoil; and the BJP’s charge that Rahul Gandhi encourages minority communalism will find more takers.