“Happy Birthday Captain. You are our new CM” – this is what the voters of Punjab have wished Amarinder Singh through ballots on Saturday, his birthday. Amarinder has won from the Patiala seat and his becoming CM is almost final, as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had officially announced ‘Captain’ as the chief ministerial candidate in January.
In the massive ship-wreck that the political fortunes of the Congress party have faced in the past few years, the only name to bob up and stay afloat on the political waters is that of Capt Amarinder Singh. He was the lone star that the Congress could flaunt among its slim victory numbers in the 2014 general elections when he had defeated BJP bigwig Arun Jaitley in a one-sided battle in Amritsar constituency. And today, he is the lone star in leading the party to victory in a state at a time when Congress has almost vanished from the entire country.
It's befitting that on the day he turns 75, he is getting the gift of a state that he has nurtured politically during the stormiest times in the history of the Congress party.
Born on 11 March, 1942, Amarinder is the son of Maharaja Yadavindra Singh and Maharani Mohinder Kaur of Patiala of the Phulkian dynasty. He is the head of the royal family of the erstwhile state of Patiala and has earlier served as the chief minister of Punjab from 2002 to 2007.
When campaigning for Assembly polls in Punjab intensified, a single catchphrase emerged, which eventually turned into a brand, connecting both the Congress party and the voters. It was “Captain is Congress and Congress is Captain”. The message was clear. If Congress wins in Punjab, Capt will be the CM, as this former CM of the state emerged as the only dependable face in Punjab Congress. He was handpicked by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 1980 - both had a Doon School connection. And he won, setting in motion a political career which touches another apogee today with the historic win in the state.
Now the party is eagerly looking forward to Captain to win Punjab for them. Will he or will he not? If Congress wins in Punjab, Amarinder is sure to be the chief minister and his status within the party is likely to witness an exponential jump, but what if the party loses? But now as the party has won in Punjab – only face saver — let us see what made Amarinder, the most dependable face for the Congress in Punjab?
The 1965 Indo-Pakistan war veteran, who graduated from National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy, had switched over his loyalty from the Congress to Shiromani Akali Dal as a protest against Army action during Operation Blue Star in 1984. He got back to Congress in 2008. The top Congress leadership, which is often accused of the ivory-tower syndrome, finally bought the wisdom of connecting with grassroots workers, at least in Punjab, before campaigning in the state.
Captain Amarinder Singh, the maharaja of the erstwhile State of Patiala and one of the lone survivors of Congress' debacle in Punjab in the last general elections, was brought in to connect with the grassroots in a new strategy to woo the voters. In a bid to make the ‘Captain’ brand stronger, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the last week of January officially announced Amarinder as the chief ministerial candidate.
“Amarinder Singh has given his blood and sweat for Punjab. He has worked day and night for the development of Punjab. He has always worked for the Punjabi and Sardar community. He is going to be our chief minister,” Gandhi had said. Maybe it was an attempt to keep Amarinder in good humour.
Though Amarinder had won from Amritsar against BJP’s Arun Jaitley during General Election 2014, there had been a negative perception against him about his inaccessibility. Thus stepped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor in 2016. Rahul Gandhi wanted to give a professional spin to the poll campaigning in Punjab. Kishor, by then had already made a name by helping Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to win the Assembly election in 2015. He and his IPAC team, in collaboration with Congress, crafted an image makeover strategy for Amarinder, projecting the latter as the ‘face of Punjab Assembly Election 2017’.
Captain, who was 74 last December, swung into action with his new campaigning initiatives like ‘Coffee with Captain’, ‘Halke Vich Captain’, ‘Punjab Da Captain’ and making effective use of social media etc desperately trying to connect with both the urban and rural youth, and the masses, so as to shed his image of an 'inaccessible maharaja'. Amarinder, who has already said this is going to be his last election, will he now give it a second thought? Congress desperately needs him, provided the party realises his importance at a higher strategic level.
Till then, Happy Birthday Captain.
Updated Date: Mar 11, 2017 14:35 PM