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Chandigarh: Has Captain Amarinder Singh’s unceremonious exit on Saturday from the Punjab chief ministership brought the curtain down on his over half a century long career in politics? Or can he still bounce back?
Amarinder has already ruled out quitting politics. In every media interview he gave after his resignation, he said that all options are open to him and that he would exercise them at the appropriate time.
But what are the possible options that lie before the politician now, considering that it was his own party, the Congress – with which he kickstarted his political career in the 1970s – that created the adverse circumstances leading to his exit?
Despite the humiliation, many believe that he will stick with the Congress and attempt to revive himself within the party. This could be accomplished by possibly convincing the Gandhi family to let him have his say in the appointment of his successor, or by bargaining for some control over who gets tickets to contest the upcoming Punjab assembly polls.
The Congress leadership also knows all too well that despite this recent episode, Amarinder still has deep roots and influence within the party and outside. More so, by calling his bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu an “anti-national” and invoking his links with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran, Amarinder made a clear attempt to block Sidhu’s possible elevation to the post of the CM.
It is no secret that without the Gandhi family’s intervention, a heavyweight politician like Amarinder could not have been forced to resign. The fact that he did not make even a single adverse comment against the Gandhis after his resignation makes it amply clear that he wants to keep the negotiation door open with the party high command. Whether he is successful in doing so remains to be seen.
A new front?
In case staying with the Congress becomes tenable, his political survival would then hinge on bagging a leadership role in another party.
More so, he could gather a sizable chunk of his supporters and split the Congress in Punjab to float a new ftont with the hope of making it relevant in post electoral arithmetics – especially considering poll pundits predict that the upcoming elections in Punjab may throw up a hung house
Amarinder, whose initiation into politics happened when he joined the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi (his friend from school days), has a history of forming a splinter group once in the 1990s, although it was not very effective move.
In 1984, Singh resigned from the Congress and joined Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in resistance against Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple.
Breaking away from the SAD in 1992, Singh formed a splinter group called the SAD (Panthic) that later merged with the Congress in 1997.
But poll pundits believe that floating a party is not an easy task. Political analyst Khalid Mahmood said that the experiment of a splinter group did not work in Punjab in the past.
He said, “We have an example of Manpreet Singh Badal before us who could not survive after breaking away from the Badal family and ultimately had to join Congress for his political career to survive. Plus, the fact is that Amarinder has lost support of considerable Congress MLAs he once enjoyed in his heydays. Had it been the case, he would not have had to resign.”
This could be deciphered from the fact that only 12 MLAs turned up when he called a meeting of MLAs before the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting on Saturday evening. Later, as many as 78 out of 80 party MLAs were present at the CLP meeting in which it was unanimously decided to authorise party high command to choose Amarinder’s replacement.
On the question of Amarinder joining another party, poll analysts say that joining SAD is next to impossible given his long public bitterness with the Badal family. As far as AAP is concerned, it also may not be interested in giving him space considering that Kejriwal and his party have been criticising Amarinder ever since they made inroads in Punjab.
Ashutosh Kumar, professor with the political science department of Panjab University, is of the opinion that his best bet could be the BJP – but subject to the condition that the farmers’ issue is resolved in timely manner.
According to Kumar, the Captain has a moderate image and is an acceptable leader among Hindus as well. More so, his military background and views on national security could work well with the BJP’s line of action.
During his interview with India Today, when Amarinder was asked whether he was thinking of aligning with BJP and the Centre in some way, he said, “I can’t give any clear answer right now until I consult with my colleagues about my future course of action.”
Amarinder’s words indicate that he has not ruled out any option at the moment. In an interview, he said that he has made a lot of friends over the past 50 years. “All options remain open in politics all the time since politics is ever changing game,” he remarked.
A long political career
Born on March 10, 1942, Captain Amarinder Singh is the son of the last king of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala.
Having completed his schooling from Doon School, Singh completed his military training at the National Defense Academy and the Indian Military Academy. He joined the Indian Army in 1963 and took part in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 with the Sikh regiment.
However, senior journalist and author Jagtar Singh told The Wire that no matter what he tries, his long political career has been eclipsed with his resignation on Saturday.
According to Singh, Amarinder is a liability now because he simply did not function as CM. “I use the word non-functioning for his tenure during his second stint as CM,” said Jagtar, explaining that Amarinder’s biggest blunder was outsourcing governance to his principal secretary Suresh Kumar and an internal coterie.
“During his first stint as CM between 2002-2007, Amarinder was more effective and bold. But that was not the case this time and he responsible for the present situation,” said Singh.
According to Singh, the present situation surrounding his political career clearly reflects that the curtains are coming down on his career.
Talking about the possible options that lie before Amarinder, Singh said he can’t go to AAP, SAD or BJP. “To me, floating a new party is the only option left if he leaves Congress,” he added. “But the problem with Amarinder is that age is not on his side. He is 79. At this age, to float a new party and work hard is next to impossible. And, had he been working hard, he would not have been forced out of the CM’s post by the Congress high command.”