How did the Punjab CM go down?

Politics Sep 24, 2021

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On September 18, Amarinder Singh resigned as the Chief Minister of Punjab after over 50 Members of Legislative Assembly wrote to Congress high command, Sonia Gandhi, that he be replaced. He had served in the position since 2017, and his resignation comes just 4 months before assembly elections, making us question Congress’ unity and integrity as a party. What could have caused his resignation and who takes his position next is yet to be seen.

Amarinder Singh’s career began in 1980 as a Member of Parliament. He took over Punjab at a time when Congress was losing its grip in almost every state across the nation. The former veteran and royal gave Congress its landslide victory in the 2017 elections to occupy the chief minister's post for a second time. Then what went wrong? How did the captain go down?

His rivalry with the state Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu, is being cited as the reason for the internal politics behind his resignation. There was bad blood between Singh and Sidhu since 2019, after Sidhu resigned from the minister’s position, unhappy with his key portfolio being stripped off during the cabinet reshuffle of June 2019. Singh had deprived Sidhu of the local government and tourism and cultural affairs departments and allotted him the power of “new and renewable energy” portfolio, however the latter never assumed charge of his new department. Sidhu was then made the state Party president by Rahul Gandhi. All of this divided the party internally, as both Sidhu and Singh had their own loyalists. But that's all the party politics. Singh’s removal has more to it than his rivalry with Sidhu.

One of the manifestos of Singh’s government was solving Punjab's long-time drug problem. In fact, during one of his rallies, he had dramatically taken an oath on a holy book to solve the drug menace within one month of taking charge. While the act did win him the CM’s position, Singh failed to completely solve the problem. The government introduced the 'Comprehensive Action Against Drug Abuse Act' which brought about a specific structure and a monitoring system to drug treatment programs, but the smuggling still continued.

Drug menace was not the only problem;  Singh’s government could not book the accused in the popular sacrilege case. Singh was under pressure over how he had handled alleged incidents of destruction of the Sikh Holy book as well as the police firing on those who protested the same in 2015 under the previous government’s administration.

Next comes the “sangat darshan crisis”. People in Punjab were used to being able to meet their CMs as a part of the public audience, something Singh did not consider important.  He maintained a close circle and even stopped going to the Civil Secretariat - not the best decisions made by a Chief Minister.

Singh refusing to accept Suresh Kumar’s resignation - an IAS Officer appointed as the chief  principal secretary, a post equivalent to that of a Cabinet secretary of the central government- in spite of orders from the High court, made other party members feel vulnerable.

All of this makes us question whether Singh was an inefficient  CM. That is not entirely true.

Amarinder Singh’s administration pursued the proposal for the construction of a corridor to a particular Sikh Holy place in Pakistan, reservation for women in local bodies was raised from 30% to 50%, huge amounts of farmer debts were waived off, and many policies to increase digitalization of the economy were brought about which also increased transparency.

In conclusion, Amarinder Singh had his share of let-downs and achievements as a CM. His administration was not the worst this country has seen. The resignation is definitely a result of intra-party politics. It is being speculated that Charanjit Singh Channi, a 3 time member of legislative assembly who will now be holding the portfolio of the new technical education minister  will be replacing him. What the new administration does to the old policies, what new policies it brings about and how efficient the new Chief Minister turns out to be is yet to be seen. Even with the Chief Minister changing, what remains constant is the game of electoral politics and powerplay.  

This article was written by Shagufa Bava for the paradigm.

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