Chandigarh, Mar 2 (IANS) Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh tried hard to turn the tables on the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in last month's by-election to the Moga assembly seat, but with another defeat on his watch, the state party could be in for a leadership change.
Amarinder Singh, whose "now-on, now off" appearances on Punjab's political scene are often the subject of discussion, spent several days in the Moga constituency to support the campaign of Congress candidate Vijay Kumar Sathi.
Sathi, however, lost by a huge margin of over 18,800 votes to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal candidate, Joginderpal Jain.
"Had Amarinder Singh spent so much time in the assembly and other elections in Punjab last year, things would have been totally different for the Congress. His effort in Moga came a little too late," a senior legislator of the Congress quipped.
With the latest defeat, the clamour among senior Congress leaders for removing Amarinder Singh, 70, is set to go full throttle.
"If he has been unable to ensure victory of the party in recent elections, a change is required," a senior Congress leader who was a minister in Amarinder Singh's government (2002-2007), told IANS.
What is particularly galling for the Congress is that Moga has been electing a Congress candidate for years. Secondly, Jain had been elected from Moga in the January 2012 assembly elections on the Congress ticket but had quit both his assembly seat and the party to join the Akali Dal.
With this defeat, the Congress has been on a long losing spree in the past one year under Amarinder Singh's leadership.
The party lost the assembly elections to the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance. That was also the first time in over 45 years that an incumbent government (Akali Dal-BJP) returned to power for a second consecutive term.
The Congress rout happened at a time when there were expectations that incumbency would work against the Akali Dal-BJP combine.
In fact, Amarinder Singh and his close aides had gone so far as to discuss positions in the government for top leaders, bureaucrats and police officers in anticipation of returning to power. Dinner parties were also organised in Amarinder Singh's honour, even before the results poured in.
Then came the verdict, and all came to nought.
After the assembly debacle, the Congress lost the local body elections in Punjab.
But a bigger jolt came when the Congress-backed group in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) was routed, for the first time in several years, by a rejuvenated Akali Dal, to take control of Sikh politics in the national capital.
Supporters of Amarinder Singh, however, continue to rally to his defence, saying he is the only mass leader in Punjab who can take on the Akalis.
"None of the other top leaders in the party (Congress) has a mass base like him. Some of them are even incapable of winning their own (assembly) seats without his help. At present, no leader has the same appeal as him," one of Amarinder Singh's close aides, a sitting legislator, said.
Ultimately, the decision on whether or not Amarinder Singh, who belongs to Patiala's erstwhile royalty, will continue to lead the Congress party in Punjab is one that will be taken by the party high command in New Delhi. Read: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)