Chandigarh: Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh announced his exit from the Congress Thursday, but also clarified that he was not joining the BJP.
Following his announcement, the Congress state in-charge Harish Rawat launched a full-blown attack on Amarinder Singh, effectively closing any possibility of a reconcilement. True to his style, Amarinder Singh did not waste much time in issuing an equally scathing reply to Rawat.
But going beyond this war the words — much more of which is expected in the days to come, as Punjab goes to polls early next year — what exactly is the former CM’s game plan?
Talking to The Print about the various possibilities, leading political experts of Punjab said the next one month is crucial, not just for the forthcoming elections, *but potentially also for the entire “political architecture” of the state.
Float own party
Dr Pramod Kumar of the Institute of Development Studies (IDC) Chandigarh, told ThePrint that there was a high chance of the former CM floating his own political party.
“Amarinder launching his own political party is highly possible. It could happen after the first step of having a floor test to try and bring down the government or it can happen without going through that first step as well,” said Dr Pramod.
He added: “His party will most likely have a pre-poll arrangement, not an alliance, with the BJP. Seats would be divided and they will go to polls together in that sense. The idea would be to corner as many seats as possible and try and be a kingmaker.”
Dr Pramod’s conviction about Amarinder Singh floating his own party is shared by Ashutosh Kumar, noted political analyst and professor of the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
“Amarinder will launch a regional party and will go into elections with an open or subtle understanding with the BJP. Amarinder will gather disgruntled leaders from various parties once the ticket distribution is over,” said Professor Ashutosh.
Talking about what should be the former CM’s best plan of action, he added: “He should focus on a limited number of strong seats and launch strong candidates. Even if he does not win enough number of seats, but is able to mop up anything between 3-5 per cent vote share, it will be good enough to damage the Congress. Amarinder’s aim right now is to ensure that the Congress is decimated. He has already said that he will leave politics only in victory not in defeat.”
Bringing down the government
According to Dr Pramod, the former CM could group with those Punjab MLAs who are supporting him. This is expected to be at least 20-members strong. “Then he can hope to call for a floor test and with the help of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) get a no confidence motion passed against the present government,” Dr Pramod explained.
The Punjab assembly has 117 seats, of which 80 are held by Congress, 19 by the AAP, 14 by the SAD and two each by the BJP and the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP).
Dr Pramod added, however, that for this he will need the cooperation of the opposition parties, which may or may not be forthcoming. “The AAP for instance may not like to vote against a Dalit-headed government (current Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi is Punjab’s first Dalit CM) considering that the dalits are their major vote bank. The SAD too may just walk out. So, it is a tricky situation, but cannot be ruled out.”
On his return to Punjab from New Delhi Thursday, following his meeting with home minister Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval, Amarinder Singh had been questioned by the media about the possibility of an ensuing floor test in the Punjab assembly.
The former CM had then said, “It is for the speaker to decide. If he feels that the government does not have the requisite numbers it can call for a floor test.”
In case of a floor test, if the Congress government headed by Charanjit Singh Channi loses, there is a possibility of President’s rule in the state, explained Dr Pramod.
He added: “With the imposition of the President’s Rule, the Punjab governor — a BJP appointee, will be all in all. And the next elections will be held virtually with BJP in control. That will suit Captain Amarinder if he has a pre-poll arrangement with the BJP.”
But even a failed floor test need not necessarily end in President’s Rule.
“There is also the possibility that the governor does not impose President’s Rule in case of a failed floor test and gives time to the government to prove its majority. And in the meantime, elections may be preponed,” said Dr Pramod.
And though the former CM has talked about the worsening law and order situation in the state experts believe, the chances of President’s Rule being imposed in Punjab on account of it and without a floor test are slim.
“Imposition of the President’s Rule without a floor test will require a huge justification,” said Dr Kanwalpreet Kaur of the Department of Political Science DAV College, Chandigarh.
She added: “Though Captain Amarinder has been constantly harping on the worsening law and order situation due to Punjab being a border state, the situation on the ground is not bad enough for the centre to step in. If it does that without the requisite rationale, the NDA will lose a lot of credibility nationally and the move will have a serious backlash.”
In fact, according to Professor Ashutosh, Amarinder Singh may not be able to pull off bringing down the government at all.
“Not because he does not want it, but because traditionally Punjab’s politics has not been given to ‘suitcase politics’,. Any politician who gets the tag of being sold or bought will be looked upon as greedy (by the electorate). In that one sense there is some decency in Punjab politics,” he said.
Whatever be the events of the coming days, according to Dr Pramod, the 2022 Punjab assembly elections promise to be very interesting. “The next month will be very crucial, we are looking at a big change in the political architecture of Punjab,” he said.
Hero of farmer’s agitation
According to Dr Pramod the solution to the farmers’ issue (the ongoing protest against the new farm laws) would be important before Amarinder launches himself back into Punjab’s political scene with support from the BJP.
Captain Amarinder had met home minister Amit Shah Wednesday and asked him to resolve the farmers issue at the earliest.
“The NDA will do it for UP elections, but have attendant political benefits in Punjab too. Once the farmers’ agitation is sorted to their satisfaction, Amarinder might be able to pull in many farmer leaders like Rajewal (Balbir Singh) into his party as well. Amarinder’s outfit then has the potential to attract both the the Jatt Sikh and Hindu vote,” explained Dr Pramod.
But Professor Ashutosh claimed that even if the NDA decided to solve the farmers’ issue it will be with focus on UP elections, and not Punjab.
“The BJP never won Punjab and its stakes here are low. Though it is an important state because of being on the border. But to support Amarinder in Punjab they do not need to make him the hero of the farmers’ agitation,” he said.
Professor Ashutosh added: “The BJP can support him on the basis of his being a nationalist, someone who is concerned about the security of the country and safety of the people of Punjab. The aim would be to have the Hindu vote consolidate behind Amarinder’s party and whatever bit of Hindu votes they can themselves gather.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)