The worst of the bitter power tussle in Punjab Congress might be over. However, the behind-the-scenes political wheeling and dealin has brought the party’s dirty laundry out in the open just months before elections
The worst of the bitter power tussle in Punjab Congress might be over. However, the behind-the-scenes political wheeling and dealing that carried on until the last minute has brought the party’s dirty laundry out in the open just months before elections.
The hectic parleys over the name of the new chief minister were well documented in media headlines, with detailed accounts of who said what in the public domain. Amarinder Singh made no secrets of his bitterness on having been dismissed summarily, neither did front-runner Sunil Jakhar hide his disappointment on being pipped at the last minute for being a Hindu in a Sikh-majority state.
Likewise, Sukhjinder Randhawa, who is now the deputy chief minister, was at one point the front-runner. News agency ANI at one point reported that Randhawa has even sought time to meet the governor, but Charanjit Singh Channi was the dark horse who won the race.
But less obvious and more unceremonious was the sidelining of Amarinder’s close aid Brahm Mohindra. A senior minister in the previous government, Mohindra’s name was doing the rounds for the post of Deputy Chief Minister. AICC treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal, in a tweet, had even congratulated Mohindra but he was not invited for the oath-taking ceremony at the last minute.
Here we look at what turned the tide for those who didn’t make it.
Why was Brahm Mohindra sidelined?
Some say there was a caste angle.
While Randhawa is a Jat Sikh, Soni is a Hindu Khatri, the second most influential community in Punjab. Channi’s appointment, on the other hand, will allow the party to play the Dalit card in the elections. However, sources told PTI that Soni’s name as Deputy CM was cleared by the party shortly before the ceremony.
Mohindra, meanwhile, is a Hindu but belongs to the Sood community. His proximity to Amarinder is also seen as the reason why he was dropped at the last moment. Local media reports say that Mohindra, once an arch-enemy of Amarinder, turned after the 2017 elections. He became so close to Amarinder over the course of time that he refused to meet Navjot Singh Sidhu after his appointment as PCC chief till the time he resolved his differences with Amarinder.
Some reports even claimed that Sidhu played a big role in getting Mohindra’s name removed from the list of deputy chief ministers. Soni, on the other hand, toed the line sooner when the change in guard became eminent.
“OP Soni is someone who used to defend the Congress most staunchly when Navjot Singh Sidhu would attack us while being in the BJP. Soni’s appointment balances the power equations within the Congress and signals to cadres that the party stands with its loyalists even as it trusts recent joiners. It’s also an effective balance to Sidhu,” a Congress leader who had a direct role in proposing Soni’s nomination over Mohindra’s told The Tribune.
What led to Sukhjinder Randhawa’s demotion?
Randhawa was originally close to Amarinder when he had a dispute with then PCC president Partap Singh Bajwa. He was not only instrumental in his ouster but also played a crucial role in helping Amarinder solidify his control.
However, earlier this year he joined hands with Navjot Singh Sidhu, and had targeted his own government over alleged failure to fulfil the promises made in the run-up to the 2017 polls including those related to the sacrilege incidents (in 2015).
It is then interesting that both Captain and Sidhu stood in the way of Randhawa becoming the chief minister and forced the Congress High Command to settle on the name of Channi on Sunday.
Sidhu apparently pointed out that if Randhawa, a Jat Sikh could get the seat, then so could he. But replacing Amarinder with Sidhu directly would have proven too brash a move. So the Congress high command took the middle path and picked a Dalit, while Sidhu was given the message to be content with his current post.
Why was Sunil Jakhar overlooked?
Jakhar was one of the front-runners for the post of new Congress Legislative Party leader after Amarinder was nudged into quitting ostensibly over his failure to fulfil the promises made by the party in the 2017 assembly polls. However, Congress finally picked Channi for the post as many leaders rejected his candidature on the basis that he was a Hindu. Congress leader Ambika Soni went on record to say that following the tradition of the Congress party, the chief minister of reorganised Punjab should be a Sikh.
No other community apart from Sikhs have helmed the state since its reorganisation in 1966 when Haryana was created.
Jakhar did not openly comment on this but said as much by endorsing a quote by a Sikh cleric saying that the caste or community of the chief minister did not matter.
Sagacious words of Jathedar of Shri Akal Takht Sahib couldn’t have come at a better time when petty minded small people occupying high positions are trying to divide Punjab on basis of race/caste/identities-forgetting eternal message of Guru “ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਜਾਤ ਸਬੈ ਏਕੈ ਪਹਿਚਾਨਬੋ” pic.twitter.com/rdIGGtpb3Z
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) September 20, 2021
Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa’s name was also tossed in the mix but the leadership fears his equation with PPCC president Sidhu is not good.
“They will end up fighting. It will go back to square one. If Amarinder was removed because the state Congress chief and the chief minister are pulling in different directions, then installing Bajwa would not solve that problem,” a senior leader told The Indian Express. As per the report, Sidhu too was not in favour of Bajwa.