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Capt grounded again
Told to cancel public rally
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 4
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been grounded once again. The Congress leadership has directed that he cancel the public rally which he planned to hold at Talwandi Sabo on August 7. This time round, the Captain has agreed to abide by the partyís directive.

The proposed rally, dubbed as a Kisan Vikas rally, was meant to kickoff the Congress campaign for the coming three byelections. Mr Amarinder Singh had also planned to use the opportunity to further project himself as the true champion of the state. The chief minister has been riding the crest of popularity after he unilaterally abrogated the inter-state water-sharing accords.

Already fuming at the Chief Ministerís unilateral move, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is in charge of Congress affairs in Punjab, has asked the state party unit to cancel the rally. Since the SYL issue was expected to be the single talking point at the rally, the Congress leadership felt it would not be wise to whip up passions on this highly emotive issue at this juncture. The veto was also meant to bring down the Chief Minister a peg or two.

As it is, the Captainís decision has created a hugely embarrassing situation for the Centre. Not only is it having an adverse political impact in the neighbouring state of election-bound Haryana, but the authority of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have also been severely eroded.

The Chief Ministerís belligerent attitude and his subsequent public utterances justifying his stance have only made matters worse for the Centre. His attempts to raise the bogey of terrorism is viewed as nothing but a threat to the PM and the party.

Consequently, the party has issued several warnings to Mr Amarinder Singh. Mr Pranab Mukherjee publicly expressed his annoyance over his decision since it has ramifications for other states. The party also fielded AICC General Secretary Janardhan Diwedi and spokesperson Abishek Singhvi to tell Mr Amarinder Singh that he refrain from making uncalled for statements on the SYL canal issue, especially since it is now before the Supreme Court.

That Mr Amarinder Singh is not out of the woods is clear. But the party leadership is in a dilemma on how it should deal with him. If it were to remove him now, he would emerge as a martyr. In any case, no successor of his can afford to take a contrary stand on the SYL canal issue. It will become easier for the Centre to decide in case the Supreme Court strikes down the Punjab Assemblyís water termination Act. Meanwhile, the issue is creating problems for the Congress in Haryana where Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala has launched a campaign against Mr Amarinder Singh and accused the Centre of conspiring with him.

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