The rapidly unfolding events in Punjab are likely to have wide ramifications for the Congress with party insiders fearing a groundswell of dissension in other states following the "unsavoury" exit of Amarinder Singh as chief minister. The voices of dissent have of late turned louder in the Congress ever since the exit of many party leaders including Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Sushmita Dev and Priyanka Chaturvedi.
Congress leaders are now in a "wait and watch" mode over the possible ripple effect of Punjab developments in faction-ridden Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the only two states other than Punjab where the party is in power on its own. Reflecting the unease in the party, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Sunday expressed the hope that Amarinder Singh "won't take any step that could cause damage to the Congress party" and stressed that every Congressman must think in the interest of the country.
The Congress braved a rebellion by Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan last year and managed to save its government led by Gehlot but there is simmering unrest in the state unit. "Punjab developments are likely to have ramifications elsewhere. Dissensions within the party may get fuelled and this will weaken the party further," said a senior leader.
Another leader noted that the decisions taken in Punjab are a "self-inflicted injury" and will come at a cost. "The aspirations of leaders are often too high to be fulfilled. The conflict within the Congress is bound to grow if you try to accommodate all aspirations, as was sought to be done in Punjab by giving the MLAs a platform to speak out against the chief minister," said a party veteran.
Sources said that G-23, a grouping of leaders who had written to party chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking organisational overhaul, is also waiting in the wings to see the outcome of changes initiated in Punjab. A former AICC office-bearer said once any party heavyweight dissents in the open, things may snowball further, hinting at a possible rebellion by Amarinder Singh in the run-up to Punjab assembly polls slated in the next few months.
A leader who did not wish to be named said he "felt sorry" for the party at the manner in which Punjab affairs were handled. "This might lead to more internal discontent and factionalism," feared a former minister from one of the states facing infighting.
Another leader felt the Punjab gamble was huge considering if the Congress lost the state along with the others going to polls in 2022, it would be difficult for the party to recover the lost space ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Alleging that the party leadership is promoting dissidence, an old party hand lamented that "competence and loyalty were considered a disadvantage in the Congress these days".
Senior party leader Kapil Sibal tweeted earlier today, "Changing Guard. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab. Age old saying: A stitch in time saves nine. Will it?". His reference was to Congress-ruled Punjab and the sudden change of guard there.
Former union minister Ashwani Kumar said he hoped the hurt sentiments of Amarinder Singh would be assuaged soon. "The resignation of Capt Amarinder Singh was an unpleasant and difficult situation. Its ramifications are yet to unfold.
"Hopefully, considering his contribution to the party and the state, his hurt feelings can be suitably assuaged in a manner consistent with his stature and dignity. This will be in the interest of the party," Kumar told PTI. Referring to the Punjab developments, former union minister Salman Khurshid said it was very sad that Amarinder Singh has resigned and hoped something can be worked to resolve the situation.
"We are all working towards unity and hope and pray that we remove our personal differences and strengthen the party further," Khurshid said. Taking to Twitter, Gehlot said that every Congressman must rise above oneself and think in the interest of the country.
"Sometimes the high command has to take decisions the interest of the party on the basis of feedback from MLAs and common people. I personally believe that the Congress President selects the CM at the risk of inviting displeasure of several leaders who are in the race for Chief Ministership. "However when the same CM is changed, he/she is displeased and holds the decision wrong. One should listen to one's inner voice in such moments. I think that it should be a matter of concern for all the countrymen as to what direction the country is heading towards due to Fascist forces.
"Therefore, the responsibility of all Congressmen increases at such times in the interest of the country. One must rise above oneself and think in the interest of the country and Congress Party. Capt. Amarinder Singh ji is a respected leader of the party and I hope that he will continue to work in the future also keeping the party's interests in the forefront,"he said In Chhattisgarh, the tussle between Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Health Minister TS Singh Deo has come out in the open with Deo seeking to enforce the "2.5 year CM" sharing formula reached at the time of Congress victory. The saga of senior leaders leaving the Congress began ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the party lost Haryana heavyweights Birender Singh and Rao Inderjit Singh to the BJP.
Assam Congress stalwart Himanta Biswa Sarma left for the BJP in 2015 and is now the chief minister of Assam. Some other prominent Congress leaders and former union ministers in UPA rule who quit the party and joined the BJP include S M Krishna and Jayanti Natarajan. Krishna has also been the former chief minister of Karnataka and Natarajan was the Union environment minister in UPA.
Former Congress chief minister from Uttarakhand Vijay Bahuguna, former Speaker of Uttarakhand assembly Yashpal Arya, and former minister Satpal Maharaj had also quit the Congress to join the BJP.
First Published: IST