Who will be the next Chief Minister of Punjab?

By Prabhjot Singh

Guess who will be the next Chief Minister of Punjab? Your guess will be as good as mine. No one knows which way the politics will swing in the New Year. But this does not mean that the run for the Chief Ministership  would stay free and  independent of the struggle for power in the State. Both are closely intertwined.

Old and new players are putting everything at stake promising electors nothing less than a moon. A number of “freebies” have already been promised. The basic question remains do these pre-poll announcements and promises have any sanctity? There is no bar on making pre-poll promises. No one can be hauled up for not keeping these promises.

Do we trust our politicians? Not all are the same. Some still care for the State and its people though they are like salt in sand.

The million-rupee question is “who will run the state or guide the destiny of the next generation?”

“A national party or a regional party, a combination of both or none of these,” are the probable choices. 

Race for the Chief Ministership may not be restricted to certain obvious candidates, including the incumbent Charanjit Singh Channi, his predecessor Capt Amarinder Singh,  the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and Aam Aadmi Party leader Bhagwant Mann. The list goes on and on.

There has been a new trend in Indian politics. All parties are expected to name their probable legislature party leaders, Chief Ministers in case of States, and the Prime Minister for the Centre.

The ruling Congress may find itself in a dilemma while naming the Chief Ministerial candidate. Will it be the incumbent Charanjit Singh Channi, the first Dalit Chief Minister, or the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu? Differences between the Chief Minister and the PPCC chief on various administrative and political issues are an open secret. How the party high command is going to resolve these issues is a major challenge for the political acumen of the top leadership. With the time running out, the gulf is widening every day.

While Chief Minister is working over time to finish the  18-point agenda given to him at the start of his government, the PPCC chief continues to talk about reviving fiscal health of the State with his 13-point Terra Terra Punjab agenda or Punjab model. Sidhu has been advocating for honesty and transparency in the Administration in what he says will pave way to end “Mafia rule” in the State. To undo the damage to the State economy in  the last 25 years, he says he will need five years  to redeem Punjab’s honour by restoring its fiscal health.

Has the first round gone Navjot Singh Sidhu’s way? The Punjab Congress Election Committee, tasked with shortlisting candidates for the upcoming elections, will be headed by Navjot Singh Sidhu with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi as a member.

The committee includes former state chief Sunil Jakhar besides all ministers and MPs of the state. Others in the panel are former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, former PPCC chiefs HS Hanspal and Mohinder Singh Kaypee, AICC secretary KL Sharma, senior vice-president of PPCC Lal Singh, and working presidents Kuljit Nagra, Sukhwinder Danny and Pawan Goel. 

Union Minister Meenaksahi Lekhi, who is co-in charge for state elections, during her recent visit to Punjab not only said that her party will form the next government in the State  but also went on to add that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the face of the party and all elections were contested under his leadership. “PM Modi is the face of BJP and in Punjab, Modi will be the face of the party,” she said.

A comprehensive strategy has been formulated for the upcoming Assembly elections,  she said. Appreciating the decision to repeal the three farm laws, Lekhi said the PM took the decision in keeping with the spirit of democracy. She assailed Congress for its failure to keep its prepoll promises, including waiver of farm loans.

Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal announced that a Deputy Chief Minister would be sworn in from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in case the SAD-BSP alliance was voted into power. He, himself, is the Chief Ministerial candidate for the SAD-BSP alliance. Incidentally, the SAD, oldest regional party in the country, is celebrating its centenary.

The SAD president had earlier this year announced that  if voted to power, his government would have two Deputy CMs — one a Dalit and another from the Hindu community.

Former Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh  reminded his successor Congress government led by Charanjit Singh Channi to fulfil the commitments made to the farmers in the party manifesto during the 2017 Assembly elections.

“I have already fulfilled most of these promises and the onus is now on the incumbent government to fulfil the pending commitments before the code of conduct comes into force,” he said.

He was replaced as Chief Minister before he quit the party and decided to float a new outfit – Punjab Lok Congress – that he hopes to have a tie-up with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Expressing satisfaction at the resolution of the farmers’ issue, Capt Amarinder Singh recalled how a year ago, he had got involved with the farmers’ movement and supported and encouraged them to take their protest to Delhi. “I am happy that our purpose has been served and the laws have been repealed to the satisfaction of our farming community,” he said, reiterating his resolve to serving and safeguarding the interests of the common man, farmers in particular. “Today I want to reassure my farmer brothers and sisters that I won’t hesitate in taking any step when it comes to watching Punjab’s and farmer’s interests the way I did in 2004 when I repealed all previous water sharing agreements with other states through the Punjab Termination of (Water Sharing) Agreement Act, 2004, to save our waters and also save Punjab from going dry,” he asserted. 

AAP appears to be in no hurry in naming its Chief Ministerial candidate, though for some, who follow developments within the Kejriwal party, Bhagwant Mann, was a probable choice.