After keeping a stoic silence over the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Friday turned to the tried-and-tested, announcing that Patiala royal family scion Captain Amarinder Singh would head the government if it comes to power in the state.
Singh has been projected as the face of the party ever since Congress began its campaign, building a strong ‘Brand Amarinder’ like never before, with calls of ‘Punjab da Captain’. But like in 2012, the announcement has come just a week before the polls open on February 4, 2017.
Lauding the former Punjab CM as an experienced leader who has given his sweat to the state, Gandhi said that he would once again fulfil every promise made to the people of Punjab.
“Amarinder Singh will be CM in Punjab. But he will not be alone and there will be thousands of Congress leaders with him. When he will take a decision, he will discuss with all workers and people of Punjab, unlike Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), where only one man takes decisions,” Gandhi said in a dig at AAP National Convener Arvind Kejriwal.
The much-touted induction of Navjot Singh Sidhu into the party fold by Rahul Gandhi following the former’s hard bargaining had fueled speculation that he was also eyeing a bigger role, with some Congress leaders also backing the cricketer-turned-politician.Those rumours have now been effectively put to rest by Gandhi’s announcement at an election rally in Majitha, Amritsar, where he was flanked by both Capt. Singh and Sidhu, who is contesting from Amritsar (East).
Capt. Singh’s candidacy as the projected CM had been under a cloud, even prompting him at one point to threaten that he would leave the party. In a recent interview, when asked whether he had had to arm-twist Gandhi to become the party’s face, Capt Singh replied: “That’s not the case. You cannot arm-twist anyone, but I did say that if you don’t have need for me, then I will have to find my own place as it is my last elections. I did say this.”
The party has faced two successive defeats in Assembly elections in 2007 and 2012 and is fighting to regain its lost glory. These elections, then, are a matter of prestige for both the Congress as well as Capt. Singh. Unlike 2012, when dissenting voices had marred the party’s campaign, there has been only subdued opposition to Capt. Singh’s CM nomination.
“There is no other Sikh face which can appeal in all three regions of the state,” say party workers, emphasising how the party has centred all its campaign on the former CM.
Apart from contesting from his home turf, Patiala, a seat vacated by his wife, former MP Praneet Kaur, Capt Singh has also challenged Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal in Lambi.
WAR OF VOTES
In Majitha, which is the stronghold of SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia, whose name figured in an alleged drug trafficking case, Rahul Gandhi reiterated that 70 per cent youth in Punjab are either addicted or have tried drugs. Soon after the announcement, Capt Amarinder Singh launched a tirade against Kejriwal at another rally challenging him to name the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab.