In a spate of media interviews months before the 2018 Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia had made a strong pitch for himself to his then party, the Congress, asking them to declare a Chief Ministerial face. It was not to be. Action replay of the same is now playing out in Punjab with Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Saying a baraat cannot be without a bridegroom and pointing out how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost in the last elections in Punjab because it did not declare a CM face, Sidhu has made his case clear – “declare me as the CM face”.
Those in the Navjot Singh Sidhu camp cite former state party presidents like him going on to become CMs — like Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel. A close aide of Sidhu pointed out to News18.com that Captain Amarinder Singh as state party chief in 2017 was declared as the CM face in those elections.
However, the Congress has a problem here — it has, for the last three months, gone to town with its decision to install the first Dalit CM in Punjab in Charanjit Singh Channi. The party’s opponents have repeatedly attacked Channi, calling him a ‘stop-gap arrangement’ and questioned if he will be replaced by Sidhu as CM if the party manages to win. This conflict seems to have prompted the Congress to go with a rather confounding approach of not projecting any CM face despite it being the party in power.
But not game for any more surprises, the batsmen in Sidhu is now playing from both ends of the pitch. He has upped the attacks on the performance of Channi and is touring the state and unilaterally announcing candidates from certain seats, without much discussion with the CM or other senior members of the Congress or the screening process of AICC reaching any conclusion.
One, he is trying to get himself declared as the face, and two, he is aiming for maximum tickets to his loyalists to back him as MLAs for the CM’s chair if the party wins the elections.
Sidhu’s camp feels that with the re-emergence of the issue of sacrilege and FIR against Bikram Singh Majithia, the former cricketer’s stock is up as he is seen in Punjab as the champion of both these causes. To be fair, Channi has publicly never said he will be the CM face or wishes to be in the chair once the elections are over and if the party wins.
But the optics of the Congress saying Channi is out of the race flies in the face of the ‘big Dalit move’ that it claimed to have achieved. The Congress has, thus, chosen to fight the elections under ‘collective leadership’ and keep the CM question ambivalent before voters.
But one needs to return to the Scindia story to understand why this may or may not work. Scindia, after failing to get his name cleared as the CM face before the MP elections, made another pitch for the chair the day after the 2018 election results, but was overlooked in favour of Kamal Nath.
Over a year later, he brought down the government in MP by taking away himself and his MLAs to the BJP. Will Sidhu take this path too if his party wins in Punjab but he is not made the CM? Brace for impact in March.