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Amarinder, not Rahul, won Punjab for the Congress

By Amulya Ganguli
March 12, 2017 12:29 IST
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'His success confirms that the infirm 132-year-old party can still get to its feet if it allows regional leaders to come to the fore,' argues Amulya Ganguli.

Captain Amarinder Singh is offered sweets by his grand daughter-in-law Mriganka Singh after his election victory. Photograph: PTI Photo 

IMAGE: Captain Amarinder Singh is offered sweets by his grand daughter-in-law Mriganka Singh after his election victory.
Mriganka -- Congress MPs and maharajas (Kashmir) Dr Karan Singh's grand-daughter and (Gwalior) Jyotiraditya Scindia's niece -- married Nirvan Singh, who handled his grandfather's social media accounts during the election campaign, a few days ago.
Captain Singh, who served in the 1965 War and was ADC to the legendary Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, turned 75 on March 11. He is the first member of the Patiala royal family to pass that milestone.
Photograph: PTI Photo

In the din of the accolades for Narendra Modi, what is being overlooked is that the election results have a 3-2 tilt in the Congress' favour.

The equation may not last for long if the BJP manages to organise enough horse-trading to make up for its shortfall in numbers in Goa and Manipur.

But for the present, the Congress can bask in the glory of having edged out the BJP in three of the five states which went to the polls.

Of them, the Congress' best shot has been in Punjab where it is assured of a five-year stint.

The man of the moment for this achievement is undoubtedly Amarinder Singh even if he has thanked Rahul Gandhi for the party's victory in keeping with the Congress' hoary tradition of sycophancy.

His success confirms that the infirm 132-year-old party can still get to its feet if it allows regional leaders to come to the fore.

This practice was common in the Congress' heyday when it had powerful chief ministers in the states like Dr B C Roy in West Bengal, Kamalapati Tripathi in UP, Srikrishna Sinha in Bihar, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and others.

It was their emasculation by the insecure Indira Gandhi which began the process of the Congress' downfall.

Since this 'tradition' was continued by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress took its time to name Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial candidate in Punjab.

The delay may also have been due to the captain's disparaging comments about Rahul when the dauphin was away on his sabbatical in Myanmar.

But, in the end, good sense prevailed over meanness and arrogance, enabling the Congress to smile at the end of the battle.

But not before the party's first family was on the verge of shooting itself in the foot as it did in Assam last year when Rahul Gandhi did not have the time to pay much attention to the dissident, Himanta Biswa Sarma, making him an easy prey for the BJP.

In Manipur, another doughty regional leader, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh, managed to give the party a lead in the numbers game, though a slender one.

If he was allowed to run his own show, it was because Manipur is too far away for the queen and the heir apparent to take any interest in its politics.

Similar reasons hold true for Goa as well.

Not that it is far away, but because its cosmopolitan culture is so different from the politics of 'mainstream' India that the state does not seem to attract the interests of the dynasty.

However, in Goa, it is the BJP which has handed the lead to the Congress -- again a slender one -- by allowing the saffron brigade to raise its majoritarian head as when the RSS chief in the state, Subhash Velingkar, took up the cudgels against English medium schools.

Velingkar's castigation of Goan lifestyle as one of 'pigs, pegs and prostitutes' reflects the outlook of the Hindu Right when confronted with the ways of the modern world.

After such an outburst, the BJP could not but have a hard time to hold on to its majority.

True, the 3-2 equation may change. But what it shows is that the BJP still has some distance to go before it can achieve its dream of a Congress-mukt Bharat.

If the Congress is still able to keep its head above the water, the reason is the lingering faith among the people about its essentially non-sectarian approach in terms of religion and refusal to be swayed by ultra-nationalistic fervour.

Since these two factors continue to undermine Modi's sabka-saath-sabka-vikas approach where the BJP is concerned, the Congress' original pluralistic ideology, though not effectively articulated by its present generation of leaders, is a huge hidden advantage.

UP will be a test case in this regard, for the Hindutva hardliners are bound to interpret the BJP's victory in the state as a signal for a renewed drive to revive the Ram Mandir agitation. There are hints to this effect by the statements of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and others.

It will take all of Modi's efforts to keep them in check and maintain the focus on development. He has succeeded in persuading the saffron brigades to suspend their ghar wapsi and 'love jihad' campaigns. But that was before the elections.

Now, after the party's thumping victory, the storm-troopers are expected to return to the fray.

Since the Congress does not have much of a presence in UP, all it can do at the moment is to wait and watch from the sidelines.

But in the states where it has won and in the states where elections are due next year, like Gujarat and Karnataka, it can reiterate its nearly forgotten outlook about the 'idea of India.'

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

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