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    Captain Amarinder Singh draws battle lines ahead of Punjab assembly elections

    Captain Amarinder Singh draws battle lines ahead of Punjab assembly elections

    Captain Amarinder Singh draws battle lines ahead of Punjab assembly elections
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    By KV Prasad   IST (Published)

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    Captain Amarinder Singh is in no mood to concede any concession to the Congress party in general and the Punjab Pradesh Congress Chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, in particular.

    Captain Amarinder Singh drew the battle lines ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections due early 2022 with a clear intent that a seasoned political gladiator will not go down without a fight. His reiteration on Wednesday underscored the veteran has decided to pick up cudgels on behalf of the people of the state, whose government he ran for the past 50-odd months.
    Clearly, Captain Amarinder Singh is in no mood to concede any concession to the Congress party in general and the Punjab Pradesh Congress Chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, in particular. ‘Sherry’ as the former India cricketer is known, is engaged in a severe war of words with the former State Chief Minister through the ubiquitous social media.
    Over the past few days, social media platforms have been inundated with a series of attacks and counter-attacks between Amarinder Singh and his camp and Congress Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who opened a front against the Captain for his association with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam. Randhawa has promised a police probe into her links with the Pak-spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence.
    Not the one to let go of any opportunity, Amarinder Singh joined the issue by releasing a series of pictures intended to portray Aroosa Alam’s status as a person who enjoys access to top political leaders. Besides asserting a ring of legitimacy to the presence of the Pakistan journalist in India, his camp made efforts to stress that her travel papers were processed by authorities concerned.
    The attempt by the State Congress leadership is to stick a charge against the former Chief Minister for his association with a Pakistani national. And, to sheer the sheen off his nationalist image that the former Indian military officer assiduously built by talking about threats that Punjab, as a frontline state, faces.
    Ironically, when the Punjab Congress is running against time to get its agenda going before the Election Commission announces the poll schedule, party leaders and a few of those in the government are squabbling and are busy attacking Amarinder Singh, who till the other day was their chosen head of the party-led government.
    After having gone into a sulk over key appointments made by Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, state Congress Chief Sidhu appears to have reconciled after being coaxed by the Congress central leadership to resume work and prepare for the difficult task ahead – retaining the government.
    Punjab Congress is in a state of flux with party leaders pulling in different directions. Sidhu is busy attacking Amarinder Singh indicating that in his assessment, the former Chief Minister is a bigger political opponent than the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party combine.
    The Shiromani Akali Dal under Sukhbir Badal is making serious attempts to claw back into the state politics after the electorate roundly rejected the party in 2017. A sizeable section in Punjab is unable to come to terms with cases of sacrilege and police action during the previous Akali regime.
    By jettisoning Amarinder Singh a few months ago, the Congress allowed the Captain room to emerge as another challenger in the already crowded field in Punjab. Besides the Akali-BSP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is making a determined effort to emerge as a strong contender since holding the status of the main opposition in the outgoing Punjab assembly.
    The AAP needs to work on a clear strategy to re-emerge from the scalding of the 2017 elections and the fractious ways of its party legislators. The last time around, AAP faced the challenge as other parties closed ranks on a tactical plane and the inability of the party to project a Chief Minister face.
    After the Akalis walked away from its decades-old alliance over the contentious farm laws, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s presence as a political force became less. This factor now stands altered dramatically with Amarinder Singh announcing the intention of seat-sharing with the party. Captain knows his acceptability straddles across different communities, especially the minorities.
    This is where his teaming-up with the BJP can alter the equations on the ground. The BJP does have a strong network of karyakartas in the field who would be backed up by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s silent and dedicated band of workers.
    While Amarinder Singh’s popularity graph went south, the veteran Congressman who was once with the Akalis knows the political turf in the state like the back of his palm. His presence is bound to slice away a portion of votes that should go to Congress in the natural course. His potential to damage the prospects of the Congress grows and tactical adjustment with the BJP can be a force multiplier for his yet-to-be-named party.
    The course of events over the past months, acerbic personal attacks in the state Congress and current state of affairs characterised by Congress MP Manish Tewari as ‘’chaos and anarchy’’ not witnessed before sums up the current mood. Besides setting up the political battlefield to ensnare the Congress, the Captain hopes to turn the adage “Old soldiers…simply fade away” on its head.
    — KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
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