RUMBLINGS within the ruling Congress party in Punjab have once shown the party incapable of getting its act right. More so, in the run up to elections. At a time, when crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are coming up, Congress in Punjab is struggling to keep itself united. Amarinder Singh, who was instrumental in winning the party two successive elections was forced to resign as chief minister following revolt against him from within the party’s ranks. Now Charanjit Singh Channi has been elected as the new chief minister of Punjab, who is a Dalit leader. One of the major causes of friction within the party was the difficult relationship between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu, the newly appointed Punjab Congress president. What makes the situation problematic for the Congress party is not only the Assembly elections in Punjab being held next year but its import for the national party that is apparently gearing up to challenge the BJP in 2024.
In August, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's breakfast meeting with the leaders from 15 opposition parties had set the ball rolling for the opposition unity. However, it would require the opposition parties to stay the course to forge unity ahead of 2024 which is still three years away. As of now, the BJP looks still the favourite to win the national polls, despite the political setback of the second Covid-19 wave. Though the opposition looks to have found its bearings, more so, after Mamata Banerjee swept Bengal polls, it has a long way to go before it is counted as a competitor. One good thing is that Rahul has shown some promise to rise up to the challenge, even though his image makeover is still a project in the works.
But the truth is it wouldn't be sufficient to dislodge the Prime Minister Narendra Modi from his exalted position. That seems still very unlikely. The fact is that India’s larger secular opposition is still in tatters and fighting over scraps. Gandhi may be a better challenger now, but there is no major pan-India leader in sight to take on the PM Modi who is now well-entrenched as a pan-Indian leader. He is now in a zone where a large section of the population in India have begun to attribute divinity to him. Moreover, the Hindutva ideology that he propagates reigns supreme and it is something whose many aspects are now being bought into by the opposition also. There is no national leader in India who wants to be aggressive on secularism. But still the opposition unity and the Congress revival as a cohesive party can be expected to offer some challenge to the BJP’s overwhelming dominance in the upcoming elections. But divisions in the Punjab Congress offer little consolation on this score.
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