After months of suspense, the Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has been replaced with Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi who took his oath as the Chief Minister. Punjab being a border state affected by militancy in the eighties, anything happening in Punjab is sensitive. The change could have been smooth, but the high command in its wisdom decided to change guard just five months before the Assembly elections.
Solving one problem in Punjab has created other problems. The echo of rebellion is also heard from two other Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Punjab example is likely to raise the hope of other rebels who have been demanding the ouster of their respective chief ministers for some time.
The Congress party faces a leadership crisis at the national level, with Sonia Gandhi acting as an interim president. Rahul Gandhi is the de facto ruler of the party, even after resigning his presidentship in 2019. Priyanka Gandhi is also emerging as a power centre, as is seen from the Punjab decision. The story of Punjab is the story of ascending power of the two Gandhis who persuaded their mother to change the Captain and replaced him with a weak leader. It is they who promoted the ambitious Sidhu who aimed to replace the Captain. The story is not over as Sidhu is still dreaming of becoming chief minister. The Congress gamble may or may not work in Punjab.
The moral of the story is that high command culture can be a success so long as the leadership is strong. It might have clicked with Indira Gandhi, but the present leadership comes nowhere near her political acumen. The same medicine does not work at all times.
The BJP, too, has changed with the party adopting the high command culture. For instance, the BJP has changed three chief ministers in Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Gujarat in the past few months. Today Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah are all-powerful. The BJP’s tactics are similar to the Indira Gandhi era. Ultimately it is the vote catcher who matters in any political party, which is why they succeed.