Punjab poll results: Squabbles spell doom for Congress
Not only did Congress seat tally nosedived to 18 from 77, the party’s vote share also slid to 24% from the last election’s 38.5%
Barely three weeks before state elections, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu had said that only the Congress could defeat itself.
His words rang true on Thursday, as the party, which was hoping to retain power in the state, suffered a numbing rout. Not only did its seat tally nosedived to 18 from 77, a near two-thirds majority it enjoyed in the 2017 elections, the party’s vote share also slid to 24% from the last election’s 38.5%. Adding insult to injury, Sidhu, chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, half of cabinet ministers and speaker Rana KP Singh were among the party leaders who lost their seats.
The Congress has only itself to blame for the defeat as there was constant infighting and the election campaign never looked like finding rhythm. Barring Channi, most other state Congress bigwigs, including Sidhu, deputy chief minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and former state unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa, remaining confined to their own seats. “There was no cohesion and each leader looked like he was just fighting his own election. They cannot escape the blame for this poor performance,” a sitting legislator who lost said on the condition of anonymity.
A former cabinet minister said the two rounds of squabbling -- first, revolt by Sidhu and others against Capt Amarinder Singh, and then rift between Sidhu and Channi -- hurt the party. “If party leaders themselves keep saying that Capt did not do anything for four-and-a-half years and then question his successor’s decision, who would vote for it,” he said.
The party had replaced Capt Amarinder Singh with three-time MLA Charanjit Singh Channi just four months before the elections, hoping that it would end infighting. The Congress calculation behind naming Channi as the first Dalit chief minister of the state was that he would rally a big chunk of the Scheduled Caste (SC) votes behind the party and tilt the scales in its favour. The new chief minister started with quick-fire populist decisions and created a buzz for some time, but it was short-lived because infighting did not stop. Not only questions were raised by Sidhu over his decisions, there was also constant bickering over ticket allocation.
Professor Jagrup Singh Sekhon , former head of Guru Nanak Dev University’s political science department, says the Congress was totally divided, its governance record was not up to the mark and it did not deliver on its promises. “There was strong anti-incumbency at the state and local level,” he says.
Another Chandigarh-based analyst says the party tried to cut its losses by bringing Channi, but the identity politics has worked in a limited manner only in Doaba, which has the highest concentration of SCs in the state. The Congress has won half of its total 18 seats in this region, bagging four of the eight reserved seats. But Channi’s defeat from both Chamkaur Sahib, which he had won thrice in a row, and Bhadaur seats has left the party leadership baffled and they are now questioning the strategy.