Taking a cue from some surveys conducted by the party in Punjab, the new Punjab Congress government under chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi will, sources said, prioritise reworking of power purchase agreements, resolving the sacrilege case and take action against drug and transport mafia in the state.
The INC surveys showed these issues had remained uppermost in people’s minds, even as persistent nudging of INC managers failed to elicit action from former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who had said he had been addressing the issues. This became a reason the party leadership finally decided to go for a change, top sources said.
The INC conducted these surveys at regular intervals and the persistence of the perception about alleged inaction on these four issues in recent months raised alarm in the party in view of assembly elections in 2022.
Sources in the party said the leadership was against the removal of Capt Singh as a corrective given his stature in the INC as well as his proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family. The appointment of popular and maverick Navjot Singh Sidhu as state unit president recently was devised as a compromise solution to correct the party’s image and also trigger action from the government.
An 18-point agenda publicly announced two months ago for Singh to take action was another way of jolting him into dramatic action but sources said he preferred the normal procedures on key issues.
Sources say the expectation from Channi and his cabinet was of expeditious action on these four high-priority issues besides sending out the message that the government is on top of the problems.
“When we received a memorandum from over 55 MLAs in which they said that they will not contest elections unless the leadership was changed, we could not have ignored it. There were fears that many of them may join other parties ahead of elections. That’s when the party decided that it was time to move on,” a senior leader said.
What further infuriated the MLAs was that those who complained against the chief minister to the Mallikarjun Kharge-led three-member committee on Punjab affairs faced action from the state unit. Recall that the AICC had asked the then-chief minister to assure the MLAs of fair treatment and that the onus of settling the dissent lay with Capt Singh.
After the drama of Capt Singh’s ouster, there is hope in the INC that the new cabinet can renew the party’s perception with people on key issues while its social engineering will deliver on mobilisation among key demographics. The party has high hopes from the populous Dalit community after the appointment of the first chief minister from the group in the form of Channi, although he is actually a closet Christian.