In the last few years, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been very lenient on Khalistani extremists – be it during the farmer’s protest or the repeated celebration of the Bhindranwale cult. Moreover, under the leadership of Singh, a lack of rapid investigations and penalties has been observed in cases involving the targeted killing of Hindu leaders (especially of those associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)).
However, with the Punjab elections around the corner and all the major opposition parties as well as rebels in his own party (Navjot Singh Sidhu) trying to appease Sikh hardliners, the Captain has decided to bank on Hindu voters; he hosted a luncheon with prominent Hindu leaders of the state, in which demands for making a Hindu as chief of Punjab Congress Committee (PCC) and giving more urban tickets to Hindus, were raised.
“A number of leaders told the CM that Hindu leaders were feeling alienated. As many as 15 Assembly segments from Hindu leaders were fielded earlier, have been handed over to Jat Sikhs. We raised this issue. Also, we requested the CM that the PCC chief should also be a Hindu,” a leader from Malwa said.
Amarinder Singh agreed to the demands and conveyed to the central leadership that he prefers Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari and state Education and PWD Minister Vijay Inder Singla for the post. There is a buzz that party high command is planning to give Navjot Singh Sidhu, the arch-enemy of Amarinder Singh, the post of PCC Chief. With this move to make a Hindu PCC chief, Amarinder Singh is hopeful of not only sidelining Sidhu but also of bringing in Hindus (who constitute 38% of the state’s population and are influential on urban seats), on his side before the elections.
The leaders who attended the Captain’s luncheon spoke against Sidhu being made PCC chief. Former Moga MLA Malti Thapar said after the meeting: “I am of considered opinion that (Navjot) Sidhu being a newcomer (to the Congress) doesn’t understand its ideology and doesn’t suit to be the president of the state unit. There are so many other important positions for him. Party president should be the person who takes everybody along… Leaders who have been staunch Congressmen should be taken care of.”
“It was an interaction with leaders of the party from urban areas and chief ministers listened to the problems of their constituencies. The suggestions given by them were referred to the ministers of local bodies and finance for completion of pending projects. Around Rs 600 crore will be sanctioned,” said Amritsar West MLA Raj Kumar Verka.
Dalits, who constitute a large percentage of Punjab’s population (~32%), have traditionally voted for the Congress party, and this is one of the reasons the grand old party repeatedly comes to power in the state despite the stain of its involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
However, these communities are unhappy with the fact that always, a Jat leader is chosen for the Chief Minister’s post, irrespective of the party that comes to power. Back in 2011, Kamal Sachdev, a Congress leader who was ousted from the party for making ‘communal demands’, questioned why only a Jat can become the Punjab CM. “Congress is a secular party, why can the CM not be a Hindu, urban Sikh or a Dalit, with whose votes the party was coming to power,” he asked.
Sensing such sentiments from the non-Jat communities in Punjab, who constitute more than three-fourths of the state’s population, Congress wants to appoint a Hindu as PCC chief before the election, to appease Hindus and would probably announce some other important post for a Dalit Sikh so that these communities back the party in the 2022 assembly elections.