Punjab would feel a sense of almost déjà vu as it watched the Congress political crisis in neighboring Rajasthan. In the end damage magnitude or damage control will be calculated in the increasingly elusive matrix between the Gandhis, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. However, what can be said now is that it highlights the treatment meted out to the Chief Ministers by the Congress high command. On his unsavory exit as Punjab chief minister, old Congress warhorse Captain Amarinder Singh, now in saffron, said he felt “humiliated” at the hands of the Gandhis, who wanted a fresh face in Punjab before the polls, just like in Rajasthan. now. The Congress which once looked formidable before the Punjab Assembly elections is now licking its wounds.

Turn the pages of Congress history. In 1990, Rajiv Gandhi removed Verendra Patil from the hot seat midway through Patil’s second term as Chief Minister of Karnataka. Another thing was that Patil was seriously ill and in no position to lead the government, but what was seen as a summary removal of the well-respected chief minister ensured that the Congress lost the support of the powerful and electorally important Lingayat community, which Patil belonged to. Since then the party has not been able to get the support of the community.

In Andhra Pradesh in 1982, Indira Gandhi sacked Chief Minister T Anjaiah, allegedly over an incident at the airport that angered then AICC general secretary Rajiv Gandhi. It cost the party dearly as the Congress tasted defeat in Andhra Pradesh in the 1983 assembly elections.

In 2008, Puducherry Chief Minister N Rangaswamy was removed from office to appoint a candidate for the Congress high command. Rangaswamy formed his own party, won the 2011 Assembly elections by a landslide and formed the government. He is currently the Chief Minister again and is part of the BJP-led NDA.

Back in Punjab, much of the Congress debacle was self-inflicted, causing the pandemonium in neighboring Rajasthan to reverberate in Punjab. Bhagwant Mann, the Aam Aadmi Party chief minister in Punjab, mocked the Congress for failing to keep its house in order. Crucially, Mann also accuses the Congress and the BJP of colluding to destabilize his government.

The AAP is hoping for a surge in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and much of the political dynamic between the warring parties in Punjab is being orchestrated with an eye on the two poll-bound states. It also probably explains why the AAP government felt the need, albeit strangely, for a confidence motion in the Punjab Assembly – only the second time in Punjab’s political history.

Behind all this political maneuvering by the AAP government were allegations of an attempted ‘Operation Lotus’, or political horse-trading, by the BJP. The AAP alleged that 10 of its MLAs were offered Rs 25 crore each to switch loyalties from the BJP in a bid to destabilize its government, a charge the saffron party denied. For a party that only experienced a landslide victory in March this year, with an unprecedented result of 92/117 parliamentary seats, its majority was not in doubt and winning the confidence motion was a piece of cake. But the idea behind it was to send a message to the electorate not only in Punjab but also in the two states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh that AAP remains resolute and its house in full order unlike other political teams.

AAP’s March victory in Punjab re-energized Arvind Kejriwal. After all, this was the second state, after Delhi, where the AAP won a landslide victory. Kejriwal feels that his party is pushing the Congress as the main opposition party at the national level. The outcome of the upcoming Gujarat and HP elections will be crucial to that end and tell the rest of the nation whether Kejriwal could emerge on the national political stage to challenge Narendra Modi.

This is what has left both the Congress and the BJP upset. Mann and Kejriwal are staples in Gujarat and HP poll rallies. The model of governance in Delhi, the landslide victory in Punjab and the AAP’s claims about its achievements in Punjab in the last six months of its rule are the party’s selling points in the poll-bound states.

Both the Congress and the BJP in Punjab are trying to play down this growing propaganda, showing that it is more a case of leadership failure in Punjab and that Mann is being remote controlled by his party bosses in Delhi. It’s a charge Mann couldn’t convincingly refute. The alarming rise of radical voices in Punjab is welcomed by the AAP. Just months after its landslide victory, AAP had egg on its face after losing the crucial by-poll for the Sangrur seat.

This seat is the home of Chief Minister Mann, who was actually the MP from Sangrur in the Malwa region of Punjab, before becoming the CM. More significantly, the seat was won by a Khalistani ideologue, Simranjit Singh Mann, who now represents the SAD (Amritsar) in the Lok Sabha. Mann’s alleged fiasco at Frankfurt airport, where he was reportedly taken off the plane after he was found to be “drunk”, was also fodder for the opposition.

Punjab offers lessons for the Congress, but who in the party is listening. The Congress unit still remains a badly divided house, its former prime minister Charanjit Chani missing in action, having chosen to exile himself somewhere in Canada on the pretext of pursuing a doctorate, and its motormouth leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, the man who dragged the Congress into this dead end with his relentless attempt to bring down Captain Amarinder Singh, spends time in jail.



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