Chandigarh, November 23: Punjab has the capacity to provide the lead at the national level, besides being the laboratory for political experiments from time to time. The Congress at the highest level might not have designed it. However, the re-emergence of former chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh as autonomous leader within the acceptable framework is an experiment that might lead to be revival of the oldest political party at the state level. It might seem to be too early to make this observation but the situation is already changing.
It is the killing the regional aspirations and regional voices that put Congress on the ventilator with the responsibility to resuscitate it being on the young shoulders of Rahul Gandhi.
During the last several months, Capt Amarinder Singh has been making strong assertions, the latest being his own resignation from the Lok Sabha and that of his party MLAs in Punjab in the wake of adverse Supreme Court judgment on the dispute over apportionment of state river waters with the neighbouring and declaring the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 as invalid. Ironically, both then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Dr Manmmohan Singh had reacted adversely to this legislation that annulled all previous awards and accords on Punjab river waters while providing statutory guarantee under Section V of that Act to the waters already flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana. It may be mentioned that about 75 per cent of the waters from Punjab river flow out to Haryana and Rajasthan. Haryana is still demanding more share through the Satluj Yamuna link Canal that now no more exists as the state government has de-notified the land and returned the same to the original owners. Neither Sonia nor Rahul has opposed this decision of the Congress in Punjab to submit resignations.
The Congress must respond to the regional aspirations in Punjab under the changing situation when the concept of permanent vote banks is being eroded. For years, it was the Congress that used to articulate Hindu view in Punjab, not the RSS or its political arm the Jana Sangh, the parent body of the present Bharatiya Janata Party, although both these outfits used to play mischief. Both the Congress and the Jana Sangh opposed almost every demand made by the Akali Dal, including those that concerned the entire state. However, the issues and concerns raised by the Akali Dal would be viewed through the same coloured prism by these two political parties.
The down fall of the Congress at the national level started when the high command culture took over and those dictating terms at the highest level started cutting to size the powerful regional leaders. In the process, these over-ambitious and short sighted leaders did not realise that the party calling itself national had to compete with the regional parties articulating regional ambitions and aspirations. Ironically, despite that historical baggage, the Akali Dal and the BJP have been allies since 1996 and both these parties take pains to convince the people that this is a social and not just political alliance. Jana Sangh was part of the first Akali government in 1967 too along with the CPI and again in 1977. But then the Akali Dal too has been in the process of transformation since its Moga convention in February 1996.
Over the years, the Congress has been decimated by the regional parties in states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, Bengal, Punjab and so on. The party can be revived only if it is strengthened at the grassroots for which, the party must have strong leaders at the local level with functional autonomy.
Capt Amarinder Singh is now in a position where he can command as the stakes are too high for none else but Rahul Gandhi. This is the template that can be replicated by the party in other states.
The only blunder he has so far committed is that of accepting people who are known liabilities. He should apply the corrective immediately by stopping induction of such people at this critical stage.
The SYL link Canal is just a symbol of protest in Punjab as the issues are much broader. It was on this very issue that he was ditched by his high command in 2007. The Congress lost. Now he is dictating the agenda. This much autonomy is a must for state leaders of the Congress to compete with the regional outfits.
The Congress is known to be the party characterised by the slowest decision making process. In contrast, the decision making in regional parties like the Akali Dal is quick. Even the Aam Aadmi Party for that matter is a regional party with decision making vested in its convener Arvind Kejriwal.
It is Punjab that should be the top priority of the party leadership with autonomy to the state party chief who is already asserting himself to produce results.