Captain Amarinder Singh likely to spearhead BJP effort in Punjab

CM Amarinder Singh
CM Amarinder Singh

It is more or less clear that former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his family are in no mood to renew their long association with the Congress. On Thursday when his wife and suspended Congress MP, Preneet Kaur voted in the Ethics Committee in favour of a draft recommending disqualification of Trinamool Congress member Mahua Moitra from the august house, she also ended speculation regarding the family’s inclination to get back to the grand old party. Preneet Kaur had been suspended in February for what was construed as anti-party activities, and has since then not been reinstated.

Captain Amarinder Singh, who after his unceremonious removal as the Chief Minister in 2021 had first formed his own party and then joined the BJP, is already in the Saffron Brigade. Conjectures about him doing Ghar Wapsi started when many of those who had left the Congress along with him, returned to the party fold recently. However, the Captain is determined to spearhead the BJP’s efforts in the border state and it is most likely that in his stronghold of Patiala, his daughter would be contesting the Parliamentary polls in 2024 on a BJP ticket.

It is significant to mention that Amarinder who along with Parkash Singh Badal was considered to be the tallest leader in the State, had lost the last Assembly polls but his desire to participate and pursue active politics, remains. The BJP has an uphill task in Punjab, as a large number of people there do not concur with its policies which they often describe to be anti-farmers. The party has had a sizable presence in the State and had both in 2007 and 2012 helped the Akalis to come to power by bagging most of the 23 Assembly seats which are Hindu dominated. It is at present headed in Punjab by Sunil Jakhar, once a close aide of the Captain and also the former head of the Congress in the State. Even though most of the leaders who had joined the BJP had either returned or were preparing to do so, the Captain and Jakhar have reiterated their loyalty to their new organisation.

Besides both of them, other prominent Congress leaders who continue to be in the BJP include Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Kewal Singh Dhillon and Arvind Khanna. The Congress had removed the Captain after allegations were made by some other prominent leaders such as Navjot Singh Sidhu that he had a secret understanding with the Shiromani Akali Dal and its leadership, and had been soft on those who were responsible for incidents of sacrilege when the Akalis and the BJP were in power. While his first tenure as the Chief Minister had been outstanding, during his second stint, Amarinder was often accused of being inaccessible, allowing his coterie and team of bureaucrats to run the show.

However, after his exit from the Congress, there has been a vacuum and no one has been able to replace him. Charanjit Singh Channi, who succeeded him as the Chief Minister, and Sidhu, who was his main challenger, egged on by the party High Command, had, like him, lost the Assembly polls, which brought the Aam Aadmi Party to power. Shortly before the elections, the BJP and the Akali alliance also broke, which weakened both in the long run. The situation as it is prevalent today is that the Akalis too are struggling for their relevance and the BJP on its own, has been unable to make any inroads in the State.

Therefore, it is going to be a mammoth challenge for Amarinder, Jakhar and the state leadership of the party to make a mark in the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier there was speculation that the Captain could be given a gubernatorial assignment or sent to Kashmir but this obviously has not happened. Even in his bastion, the AAP has made inroads and the former soldier, considered to be amongst the finest military historians, is finding ways and means of regaining his family’s position. Preneet Kaur has in the past differed with her husband on political matters, but in the long run, has stood by the family and is now keen that her daughter should continue the good work done by the family and represent Patiala.

For that to happen, both she and the Captain would have to once again win back the confidence of the people. Many had not expected Preneet Kaur to vote against Mahua Moitra in the Ethics Committee but it is evident that she has now made her choice and would be crossing over to the BJP formally, in a not too distant future. In fact, there is a lot of churning taking place in the border state and it is being said that the AAP’s popularity is diminishing and its candidates may face an uphill task when the Lok Sabha elections take place. The Congress is confident of reviving its fortunes and several analysts are of the opinion that if the Congress and the Akalis were to reach an unstated understanding, the outcome in Punjab could hold many surprises. Regardless of whatever happens, the Captain shall always remain one of the most charismatic leaders the state has produced.