Why was Kamal Nath appointed as AICC general secretary in charge of Punjab in the first place given the fact that allegations over his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is well-known. And if it was a well thought-out decision then why was he removed? The Kamal Nath fiasco has once again put the spotlight on decision-making at the highest level in the grand old party.
Sources said the Congress high command was well aware of the allegations against Nath, but perhaps did not anticipate such a strong reaction. It did not expect the level of criticism the decision would evoke. With Assembly elections just months away, the Aam Aadmi Party is desperately looking for issues to target the Congress. There are no dearth of issues against the Akali Dal since it is the ruling party.
What was Nath’s utility? Congress sources point to his close links with Captain Amarinder Singh – they even have a Doon school connection – and his ability to raise resources. In other words, Nath would be of immense help to a party which was facing a severe cash crunch. Knowing Captain’s temperament, the party also wanted a very senior leader to work with him who could not be brow beaten.
“Amarinder always has one hand on somebody’s turban and another on his feet. He is very unpredictable. He swings from one extreme to another. So to deal with such a person, you need a general secretary who can be firm and at the same time tactful and has a comfortable equation with him. Nath fits that bill. Had it been not election time, nobody would have cared about his appointment outside Congress,” a senior Punjab leader said.
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More than Akali Dal, the Congress was unnerved by the criticism by AAP. “AAP got a talking point against us. AAP is trying to make inroads into the hardline and radical Sikh votes. They got this issue. So it became competitive. Akali Dal too had to raise the issue. And we were caught in between,” a Punjab leader said. Punjab leaders, sources said, told the high command that AAP was planning to hold street protests and wave black flags when Nath visits the state. There was considerable disquiet within.
“It was an unnecessary controversy…I don’t know what were they thinking,” a senior leader said. People like former union minister M S Gill even went on record calling it a heartless decision and rubbing salt onto the wounds of Sikhs.
Sources said a host of Punjab leaders had complained and even Nath himself was not very keen to continue. Punjab leaders said his removal was a wise decision. “Otherwise, in the entire campaign we would have been busy defending him. Humne kya campaign chalani thi….roz unki safayiyaan hi dete rahte…Better sense prevailed,” another senior leader said.
There are reports that former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit could be appointed as the party’s Punjab in-charge.