ome may consider it a sad commentary on the Congress leadership that it took four years and seven months to oust Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister and find his replacement. It may be a grave mistake to presume that the Captain had no contribution in strengthening his party in that state.
Also, the change leaves the new incumbent barely four months to prove his mettle and redeem unfulfilled pledges made by the outgoing Captain. This replacement could have been prompted by a desire to simply offer a new face without any encumbrances. Whether that alone will fetch enough votes for the party to retain power can only be seen in the elections to be held soon. The Congress leadership might have been prompted to react the way it did in Punjab by seeing how the BJP, too, has been behaving in different states recently.
This sort of a change in regional leadership is not new in Indian politics. Congress had been doing this throughout Indira Gandhi’s lifetime. The assumption was that the average voter voted for the supreme leader. It was considered that the people in between did not matter in any way. Keen political observers may be able to draw parallels between the behaviour of the Congress of the old times and the BJP of today. The BJP too, now at least, thinks that all those who vote for it are doing so in the name of Narendra Modi. The ignominious manner in which strong man BS Yediyurappa was shown the door in Karnataka is a great example. All he had to do to retaliate was to give a statement that ‘Let us not be under any illusion that we can win all elections by using Modi’s name’. The damage has been done. To what extent this will impact the BJP’s fortunes will be measureable after the next polls. These are astute leaders whose words hold deep meaning for the common man. Looking at the Congress, it is interesting to note that while the national leadership most likely wanted Navjot Singh Sidhu as the next CM of Punjab, outgoing CM Amarinder Singh had to utter a few words to queer the pitch for him. Amarinder stated ‘Navjot Singh Sidhu is an incompetent man. He has a connection with Pakistan. It will be a threat to national security’. Those words were enough to bury Sidhu’s political dreams six feet under the ground.
The Congress did benefit from Indira Gandhi’s name which did have a tremendous sway over the Indian voters for a long time. Yet, in 1977, not only was the Congress defeated but Indira was personally humbled by a non-entity called Raj Narain. After her death, the damage wreaked by Indira’s style of functioning has made the Congress leaderless at the bottom of the pyramid today. Now, with no national figure to charm the voter, the party seems to be doomed to slowly wither away.
Instead of opting for so-called young leaders, it may be wiser for the Congress to hold on to the old guns that are still capable of delivering. All the young leaders promoted during the UPA decade have been unable to retain even their own constituencies. Some prominent ones have defected and weakened the party, thus proving that the selection process was wrong from the beginning. Interestingly, the choosing was done primarily with the idea of promoting legacies which were expected to take prime positions in the future. While the parents might have been stalwarts, the offspring have proven to be useless. This could also mean that new age Indian politics requires leaders at the lowest level. The Congress does not seem to have any machinery capable of encouraging or even recognizing new elements. Without a bunch of fresh faces and new ideas, the party seems to be going down in a spiral.