Congress ‘blundered’ its way into an advantageous situation after having selected ‘Dalit Sikh’ Charanjit Singh Channi to be Chief Minister of Punjab. And, then, party General Secretary Harish Rawat went and spoiled it all by saying the coming elections would be fought under the leadership of State Party President (and ‘Jat Sikh’) Navjot Singh Sidhu. He was being balanced and all that, but the entire euphoria generated by Punjab getting its first Dalit Chief Minister evaporated and Channi being only a stop-gap arrangement for the party High Command became public knowledge. The master stroke expected to swing Punjab’s thirty-one percent Dalit voters in the Congress’ favour was seen to be only a ploy to get rid of former CM Amarinder Singh. This it was, because even seventy-eight year old Ambika Soni was approached for the job before settling on Channi.
Much of this confusion has to do with ‘election analyst’ Prashant Kishore’s surveys on the voter mood in the state. The Gandhis have come to believe that Navjot Singh Sidhu has crafted together a winning support base, without going into exactly what this comprises. Principles, of course, having very little to do with politics nowadays, but to be uncaring of who they are getting into bed with amounts to short-sighted greed. Amarinder Singh has more than once warned against the kind of forces that have gathered under Sidhu’s flag, which might produce a majority but force him, later, to follow their behest. Many of these have anti-national antecedents.
The import of Harish Rawat’s statement is that the present Chief Minister is not the party’s face and could be replaced after the elections. This is easier said than done, for as analysts have pointed out, to win elections under a Dalit leader and, then, to oust him would damage the party nationwide. As it is, Dalits are not exactly a homogenous community in Punjab. They comprise Sikhs, Hindus and a large number of Christians. It is not necessary that they will all vote uniformly. Their one commonality is that they were among those most adversely affected during the Khalistan movement. This has not been forgotten. Captain Amarinder’s unconditional nationalism had drawn such victimised communities to his fold. Now, despite what Prashant Kishore may have devised, the electorate will be greatly fragmented. But, that is what can be expected from being so focused on winning that one loses sight of the real objective.