Amarinder Singh's victorious election campaign was predicated on his keeping a plethora of promises, chief among them being a pledge that he would not seek re-election in 2022 and would therefore dedicate himself to governance unimpeded by the calculus and constraint of re-election. The emotional appeal of it being the last campaign of his political career, was a major reason for his victory. That he would not be able to root out the drug menace within one month of being sworn in was obvious, that he would not inquire into the plethora of serious allegations against the vanquished Badal clan was anticipated, but most assumed he would at least keep his vow of serving only one term as Chief Minister. Well, it turns out that even this hope was too much to expect, because last week, word seeped out from the inner sanctum of the Chief Minister's durbar that Punjab was in such dire shape that for the long-term interest of the state he would in all likelihood be putting himself forward in election in 2022 as well. Apparently, Amarinder Singh is now Punjab's indispensable man. This explains the public demonstration of the Captain's vigour and vitality on Sunday.
These factors, combined with the impending coronation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress President, who has had a shaky relationship with Amarinder Singh in the past, led to talk in some quarters of Punjab Congress about Navjot Sidhu replacing the distant and distracted Captain as Chief Minister sooner rather than later. No doubt this speculation spurred the Chief Minister into a flurry of action, which continued yesterday with his wading into the "Padmavati" controversy where he supported the viewpoints of BJP Chief Ministers that the film has distorted history. His stand puts him in opposition to the strong stand defending Deepika Padukone taken by his party's Karnataka Chief Minister and in the company of the most illiberal thought. His statement was partly a product of his being an erstwhile royal, as even in modern India, royals still stick together through marriage alliances and a shared feudal delusion of a glorious past that glosses over unpleasant truths. But this was also perhaps Amarinder Singh way of reminding Rahul Gandhi, as he did before the Punjab elections when he threatened to form his own party, until he was made Punjab Congress President, that he is not to be taken for granted. There was talk then of his dalliance with the BJP and he has maintained good relations with the Modi government since his election. The Captain is never more agile then when he senses that he is being cornered. And the Prime Minister, who is rumoured to have no great affection for the Badals, would be only too happy to welcome the Captain into the NDA.
Amarinder Singh is a charming man, a military historian of repute, and will forever be admired by Sikhs for resigning from the Congress and parliament after Operation Blue Star, but he now appears to have no other interest than to mark time in office, enjoying the comforts of power to the maximum, while avoiding any of the rigors of hard work that are expected of a Chief Minister. He is a leader in his twilight and has no vision for Punjab, and little stamina or inclination to accomplish anything besides preserving his own jagir, something at which he is adept. But the future beckons and the patience of voters wears thin.
(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and a member of the Aam Aadmi Party.)
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