Amid a power dispute with the President of the Punjab Congress, Navjot Singh Sidhu, which polarized the ruling party, Captain Amarinder Singh resigned as prime minister on Saturday. The development comes almost four months before assembly elections in the state.
Singh’s resignation came hours before a crucial meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) on Saturday night, anticipating what was seen as a move to remove him from the post of CM.
At the meeting, the MLA of the Punjab Congress authorized the party’s national chairwoman, Sonia Gandhi, to elect a new CLP leader and, in a resolution passed unanimously, praised Amarinder’s contribution to Punjab and the Congress.
Amid various names circulating for the CM post, the party’s former state chairman Sunil Jakhar is believed to be the frontrunner. He won the Gurdaspur elections before and is known for making religious appeals at public events, where he has been quoting Guru Granth Sahib. It would be the first time, after the reorganization of Punjab in 1966, when the state forked into Punjab and Haryana, that there would be a Hindu prime minister.
Sidhu, chairman of the state party and former minister in Amarinder Singh’s outgoing government, also stood as successor. Sidhu, a former Indian cricketer, was stripped of the portfolio of the local bodies department in 2019 and has been at odds with Captain Amarinder ever since.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa is also among the likely candidates for the position, the latter being the Minister of Prisons and Cooperation in Captain Amarinder Singh’s outgoing cabinet.
Deputy Rajya Sabha and Congressional Leader Partap Singh Bajwa is another name among the likely list for the top ministerial post.
However, the effective mandate of the next Punjab CM will be short given that the state assembly elections are scheduled for February 2022 and the fact that the Election Commission will impose the model code of conduct in the state well in advance. Following the precedent of the 2017 elections, the code of conduct should take effect the first week of January 2022 and this will leave the new Chief Minister a little over 12 weeks to have an impact.