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Interpreting Cong’s maladies

With the Lok Sabha elections only 15 months away, the questions are already being asked whether the Congress will again be able to outclass the Akali-BJP alliance in the 2014 poll. The party had won eight seats in 2009, while Akali Dal’s tally was four. Though it is too hazardous to speculate on the likely fate the two main fighters will meet in 2014, yet it will not be out of context to take note of their current state of health which, if it does not undergo a drastic change, will have a bearing on their electoral fortunes, especially that of the Congress. 

The party seems to have contracted death wish. Even after its unexpected and self-inflicted defeat in the March 2012 Assembly elections, the party has not overcome the shortcomings that caused its defeat. Its factionalism-hit leadership stands vertically divided. Three main reasons are responsible for the maladies that the Congress suffers from. One, the central leadership has a lackadaisical attitude towards sorting out the organisational issues. Two, the leadership is confining itself to issuing statements rather than organising the people against the ruling Akali-BJP’s lapses. Three, the party is politically isolated and has failed to take initiatives to unite the opposition against the government.

The Congress’ organisational paralysis is indicated by its leadership’s failure to formulate a well-planned programme of action for mobilising the people to organise grassroots level mass protests and dharnas, the common mode of popular protests the political parties adopt to protest against the governments.

There is no paucity of issues on which the Congress cannot take the Akali-BJP government to task. To mention a few: an overwhelming majority of ambitious projects, particularly in the power sector, either remain unimplemented or the work on some has not even started; the social welfare sectors, like health and education, are in a state of collapse because of lack of funds and dilapidated infrastructure; the treasury is empty with the debt mounting to over Rs 80,000 crore; some sections of employees do not receive their salaries for months; a recent foreign report said that NRIs are not prepared to invest in Punjab because of corruption, red tape and procedural complications; and, criminalisation of politics. Its magnitude can be gauged from the fact that the ex-SGPC president and the dismissed minister Bibi Jagir Kaur was honoured by a senior Punjab government officer even when she was in jail. She is also given a place of honour by top Akali leaders at public functions. Bibi who is on bail was convicted by a court for five years for abducting and forcing her to abort her baby.  

No doubt, the PCC president has occasionally held protests against the Akali-BJP government’s ‘excesses’ and lapses. But these are only symbolic and not part of a well-thought out sustaining state-level prgoramme. Certain district party leaders such as former MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira are more active in organising protests against the government. The Youth Congress has gone a step further when its state president Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary pasted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pictures on the ‘208 emergency service’ ambulances which carry the pictures of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. He charged the government with usurping the credit of ambulances provided by the Union government.

Although nine months have passed since submission of his resignation from the PCC chief’s office, the central leadership has failed to take a decision on whether to retain Capt. Amarinder Singh as PCC president or appoint his successor. The delay has deepened the fissures in the party with a number of aspirants making a queue to grab the post. The delay seems to be due to the central leadership’s preoccupation with national priority issues. Another reason for the delay could be a feeling among an influential section of the central leadership that there is no other leader of Capt.

Amarinder Singh’s stature capable of effectively fighting the Akali-BJP combine. A decision on the issue will perhaps have to wait till the end of the on-going Parliament session.

However, in case he is allowed to continue as the PCC chief, the fighter in Amarinder Singh will have to ensure that he gives up his isolationistic and royal style of functioning and guarantee easy accessibility to party workers. The state Congress will also need to fully learn the art of coalition politics.

The state Congress will find The Sanjha Morcha comprising Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s nephew-led Peoples Party Of Punjab, CPI, CPM and Surjit Singh Barnala-led Longowal Akali Dal as its natural ally for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. (IPA)
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