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'Channi is badly hamstrung by Sidhu'

By Aditi Phadnis
November 30, 2021 19:25 IST
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'This individual's constant endeavour at self-glorification, even at the cost of both the government and the party, has the potential to subvert whatever genuine efforts that Channi has been making since he became CM.'

IMAGE: Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, left, and Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu during their visit to the Kedarnath temple in Rudraprayag, November 2, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Many believe the ruling Congress-led government in Punjab could not have shot itself in the foot more accurately ahead of assembly elections due early-2022.

Not only did the party drive out chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh by clumsy political management, but also continues to lurch from blunder to blunder.

Little wonder then, that the most recent pre-poll survey sees the Aam Aadmi Party emerging as the single largest party in the 117-member legislative assembly, with the Congress losing both seats and vote share.

In a candid interview, Lok Sabha Congress Member of Parliament from Punjab, Manish Tewari, tells Aditi Phadnis what went wrong with party management in the state and what must be done to correct it.

 

What are the biggest issues in the forthcoming assembly election going to be and how do you think the current administration in Punjab is handling them?

Since the social dynamics of Punjab have been transformed at the apex level for the first time since the state was founded in 1966, it remains to be seen how this would square up against the quintessence of Punjab, Punjabi, and Punjabiyat -- the composite culture of Punjab that has been the bulwark against the continued depredations of the ISI-led Pakistan.

The fundamental issue, therefore, would be who can provide a stable government to the state in a state of fluid social diminuendos.

There is a feeling that Captain Singh was treated unfairly and driven out of the party. Could the issue have been handled better?

The issue of Singh's replacement could have been handled with far more élan. It was a botched operation.

What kind of political management is it if the person who you replace as the CM -- who has been at the helm of the party in Punjab since 1998 -- walks out of the party with a seven-page resignation letter in the public domain?

Unfortunately, the AICC (All India Congress Committee) general secretary, who was appointed in September 2020, came with a pre-determined agenda to accommodate 'one particular individual who had come from the RSS-Bjp (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party) stable', even if it meant gutting the party and the government in the process. A party that had valiantly fought terror and lost 35,000 cadres and leaders between 1980 and 1995.

He deliberately misinformed his superiors that Singh's government had become unpopular. That simply was not true. I am given to understand that some cooked-up data points were circulated to the media to build up an environment for change and substantiate this point of view.

Singh's unique style of functioning had its detractors and a fair share of perceived shortcomings, but that was an intra-party issue and not germane to the bulk of the people of the state who appreciated his no-nonsense style of governance.

Given his age and stature, if requested he would have resigned both voluntarily and gracefully. He would have still been a part of the Indian National Congress. After all, this was not the first time the INC had replaced a CM. It has happened on hundreds of occasions going back to 1972.

There is a perception that Captain Singh's new party is going to harm the Congress by collaborating with the BJP in some areas. Is this accurate?

Singh's new party definitely has the potential of causing harm to the INC. I would still advocate reconciliation.

What would you like to see the government doing in the short time left to salvage the Congress's position?

The government and the party need to work together. In addition to being the CM, Charanjit Singh Channi is also one of my members of the legislative assembly. He fought my 2019 Lok Sabha elections with as much vigour as he fought his own assembly elections.

However, he is badly hamstrung by an 'individual' whose political DNA and basic grounding is that of the RSS-BJP.

This individual's constant endeavour at self-glorification, even at the cost of both the government and the party, has the potential to subvert whatever genuine efforts that Channi has been making since he became CM.

Ultimately if Channi does not bite the bullet with regard to this 'eminence' and does not stand firm, then a perception of procrastination and vacillation would crystallise in people's minds.

An unseemly controversy has broken out over the state government's legal officers. Should this have been the priority right now?

The replacement of the advocate general was neither necessary nor warranted. A lawyer is neither wedded to his client nor his brief. He is obligated under the rules of professional standards to accept a client's brief unless there are exceptional circumstances. Targeting lawyers on the basis of their client list sets the bar very low.

Are you concerned that some decisions the Centre has taken impinge upon the federal nature of Centre-state relations?

The decision to increase the operational jurisdiction of the BSF from 15 to 50 kilometres without consulting the state government impacts the federal-state relationship for law and order is a state subject. It is an assault on the rights of the state.

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Aditi Phadnis
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