It will be the second merger in Captain Amarinder Singh’s political innings. This time he merges his Punjab Lok Congress party – born of a bitter farewell to Congress – with the BJP and officially joins the Safran Party along with his close aides and family members.
The last time Captain merged his party was in 1992 when he split from the Akali Dal and formed the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic), which eventually merged with Congress in 1998. As in 1992, Captain merged his party into a national entity after suffering a crushing defeat in the Vidhan Sabha polls. Not only was his party unable to win a seat, he himself lost to Patiala, his bastion.
Captain Amarinder Singh once told News18.com, “I’m a Fauji, I never leave the battlefield. I fight back”. This was when he was deposed as chief minister of Punjab and he was succeeded by Charanjit Singh Channi, with Navjot Singh Sidhu, the captain’s bête noir, being appointed head of the state congress.
The captain then joined the BJP, but founded his own party. At every rally he was ruthless when it came to the Gandhis, especially siblings Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. While Singh himself faced a crushing defeat, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) formed the government in Punjab, his prediction and warning to the Gandhis came true, much to the chagrin of Congress. Captain’s words at rallies and his humiliating departure are believed to have hurt the public perception of Congress, leading to a loss in polls.
Even after his bitter departure from Congress, the captain speaks affectionately of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Singh, one of Rajiv Gandhi’s closest friends, was accepted into Congress by Rajiv Gandhi – a connection that has increased his influence.
For this reason, Sonia Gandhi made him the chief minister face in 2017, despite the fact that the captain had made some comments against Rahul Gandhi’s political skills. Under pressure, a reluctant Rahul Gandhi had to grudgingly explain the face of the party in Punjab by butt-end campaigning in state elections.
But ultimately Rahul Gandhi got his revenge when he used Sidhu to oust the captain, who had always opposed the politician-turned-cricketer as PCC chief. The pain of being asked to step down as prime minister to make way for Channi with Sidhu at the helm is a bitterness Singh has never overcome. He once asked me, “Why did they do this to me? In any case, I would have resigned as CM after the results.”
It is perhaps the captain’s importance and credentials that prompted Sonia Gandhi to apologize to him, even when she phoned him to request his resignation, as the Gandhi siblings were unhappy with a man they never put terms on could dictate.
But for Captain, now viewed as a spent force by his detractors, what’s the point of joining the BJP? And what does the BJP get out of it?
First, sources close to him say that as far as he counts as a captain, he wants to maintain his political relevance. But beyond that, he wants to ensure that his children and grandchildren – who have not been successful in their political endeavor – can gain a foothold in Punjab politics, especially with Congress struggling to survive and AAP firmly in the saddle for the next few years.
The BJP, meanwhile, is hoping to do well in the Lok Sabha polls so that anger at farm laws can be quenched and it can conquer space in a state where only an alliance like the Akali has managed to keep it relevant Dal. It’s important for BJP to ensure AAP’s defeat in order to silence one of their most aggressive opponents and halt their triumphant streak.
There is a possibility that Captain will be in Rajya Sabha soon and the BJP would like to see him as the face to remind Congress what is wrong with them. The captain’s anger and bitterness is reserved for Rahul Gandhi, and while he is popularizing his “Bharat Jodo Yatra,” Singh – with his background as a “Fauji” and nationalist – might be just the right voice to do it with both the Gandhis and record with the AAP.
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