The Congress party is gripped by a crisis after its Punjab strategy to unseat Captain Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister went haywire. The reformist group within the party has questioned the authority of the family triumvirate comprising Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in a manner it had avoided until now. While the Gandhis were resolute about ejecting Captain Amarinder, they were clueless about what would come afterwards. As it happened, Charanjit Singh Channi emerged as Chief Minister out of a factional scramble, and the party sought to find virtue in his accidental elevation by highlighting his Dalit identity. The Dalits in Punjab are largely with the Congress. Whether the party will accrue additional votes owing to Mr. Channi’s identity remains an open question. Meanwhile, resentment is streaming forth. Navjot Singh Sidhu, who never deserved to be the president of a Congress state unit to begin with, resigned in a huff, embarrassing the Gandhi siblings. Captain Amarinder, now bruised and humiliated, is vengeful and appears willing to do anything to derail the Congress’s prospects in next year’s Assembly election. He could join hands with the BJP or explore other options. Many social fault lines in Punjab may have resurfaced now. Mr. Sidhu has been playing the Sikh communal card, which could have dangerous ramifications.
Mr. Gandhi’s impatience with the party old guard is understandable and even justified to a great extent. What he lacks is a coherent strategy and transparent plan to revamp the party. He owned up to the party’s debacle in the 2019 general election and resigned as party president, but continued to retain ultimate authority. He appoints and removes office bearers and Chief Ministers, while posturing that he is above the fray. This is untenable as his authority without accountability is far too evident. If he wants to be the leader of the Congress, it cannot be in the informal and whimsical manner as it is now. It needs to be formal and consultative, for which he needs to return as the party president. Reviving the Congress will require the leadership’s constant engagement with workers, and the management of the egos and ambitions of individual leaders. The Congress cannot be revived by stealth and subterfuge, or by recruiting boastful charlatans. The burden of revitalising it cannot be shifted to the shoulders of random, untested new recruits, as Punjab shows. Mr. Gandhi is taken in by the self-defeatist notion that the Congress as it exists cannot be revved up until there is a purge and parallel induction of outside talent. No knight in shining armour can help the Congress unless it nurtures its roots and respects its workers. The disastrous Punjab experiment underscores that elementary fact.,blackjack guide