Opinion & Perspective: Perceptions do matter and sometimes even win elections. No party realizes it better than the Congress, now reduced to less than 50 seats in the Lok Sabha. When it set about setting its Punjab house in order, the Congress thought it had ticked all the boxes. Capt Amarinder Singh became the state party chief while the Punjab party in-charge, the ineffectual and ineffective Shakeel Ahmad was shown the door. But the Congress missed a trick by replacing him with Kamal Nath. With a reputation for ingenuity and resourcefulness, Kamal Nath was the right person for a grueling, no-holds-barred battle of wits with the Akalis and AAP. The Congress has rapidly realized that Punjab’s DNA is different. The albatross of Kamal Nath’s alleged involvement in the 1984 riots far outweighs his usefulness as a shrewd political operative.
Soon the Akali Dal and AAP targeted the Congress for picking a 1984 riots suspect to oversee polls in a state still awaiting closure on a dark chapter. It is a measure of the dissonance in the Congress that it did not sound out the Captain before replacing Ahmad with Kamal Nath. The upshot was a tempest in Punjab that put Congress’ poll preparations on the backburner while Amarinder Singh lamely defended the high command’s choice. The former Punjab CM cut a sorrier figure when the Congress removed Kamal Nath hours after he had defended his appointment.
For a party short on confidence, luck and public support, the Congress can ill afford a slip-up. It currently has a narrow window of opportunity to prove it will be a worthy contender. AAP’s claim to be purveyors of experimental politics is under challenge. The sword of disqualification hangs on 21 of its Delhi MLAs, half of its original lot of ministers has quit and the first scam under Arvind Kejriwal’s watch seems to be brewing. The Akali Dal is saddled with more than an incumbent’s disadvantages but is not throwing in the towel. Kamal Nath’s appointment is a distraction the Congress could have done without.