Old hands Cong, SAD yield ground to new players

The PM security breach issue coupled with recently formed alliance with Amarinder has enabled the BJP to get a foot in the door in Punjab where till now it was clearly lagging far behind AAP, Congress and SAD

The multiplicity of political parties in fray in this election being held in Punjab on Valentine’s Day February 14, has challenged the dominance of the two traditional rivals, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, which have ruled the state by turns all these years.

In the fray for 117 seats are the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, the BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party and Sanyukt Samaj Morcha. The Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party are contesting as alliance partners while the Bharatiya Janata Party and
Punjab Lok Congress have joined hands.  This has altered the poll dynamics where about 21.1 million voters would seal fortunes of contestants.

Congress infighting

A few months ago, Congress seemed ahead of all parties but now there is a rift wide open in ruling Congress and it still is not clear whether Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, Party President, Navjot Singh Sidhu and senior leader, Sunil Jakhar will be able to sink their
differences and internal strife before polls or inflict a self goal. The party is finding the going tough in view of the party going in under a collective leadership without announcing a CM face. The Congress sees Channi as a trump card to garner a big chunk of SC votes of over 32 per cent but the Channi-Sidhu tussle is sure to be a self goal for the party.

Former Punjab Congress Committee president and incharge of poll campaign committee Sunil Jakhar has said that the party ‘high command’ has already clarified that they intend to go with a ‘collective leadership’ this time. Also the  party’s in-charge for Punjab affairs
Harish Chowdhary had made it clear that this election is not going to be built around ‘one particular person’. Jakhar said that Congress strength is what Rahul Gandhi believes in, and that is ‘breaking conventional norms.’ He has a vision and that is what he tried in Punjab — he broke a glass ceiling when he brought in Charanjit Singh Channi as the Chief Minister, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community. The decision was a step towards social empowerment of the deprived section of society. About the performance of Congress
government in Punjab, he quipped that one of our major poll promises was the enhancement of old-age pension, which we did by raising it from Rs 700 to Rs 1500. Within our resources, the loan waiver for farmers was done.  He agreed that continuous rants against own government by senior leaders on public platforms had done harm to Congress. He said, “I personally think that this should be checked. I think too much leeway has been given and it’s not about any particular person. Such issues deserve more attention and they should have been handled sternly rather than glancing over… it has led to a kind of a free-for-all situation, which is not good for the party. A divided house never helps anybody. Whatever differences are there should be sorted out in-house”.  The position of State Congress president is as high as you get in a State. And this authority that is vested in that position also makes it incumbent upon you to be careful about the process and procedures to be followed. The ‘high command’ should settle this issue once and for all.

AAP, SAD, BJP hopes


In such a scenario, the Aam Aadmi party is hoping for a second opportunity after the party’s debacle in 2017.  The AAP with its populist promises and Delhi model of governance has painted the Punjab walls with its catchy war cry Ek mauka AAP nu (One chance to AAP).

The BJP has a clear plan and has forged an alliance with former chief minister, Capt Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and former Union Minister, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s Sanyukt Akali Dal.  The Shiromani Akali Dal would be going in for election without its 24-year old partner BJP and has tied up with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in an apparent bid to woo scheduled cast voters that account for a whopping 32 per cent in Punjab. The SAD is also trying its Panthic pitch while it is also counting on its patron and senior leader Parkash Singh Badal and on an aggressive campaign, spearheaded by Sukhbir Singh Badal.

There are issues galore from Prime Minister’s security breach to drugs abuse, sacrilege and sand mining etc. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have raised the issue of security lapse in a big way. This has led to a sudden shift in the political narrative and may consolidate urban Hindu vote banks in a few seats in Punjab.

Indeed, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur outcome is going to have crucial ramifications for the ruling BJP to up the ante for 2024. Except Punjab, the BJP is ruling in all these states.  The scale on which the BJP raked up the issue of a security breach during the PM’s recent visit to Punjab clearly signals Narendra Modi will continue to be the face of its electioneering for the coming round of Assembly polls too. The victories as such would be crucial for the saffron party. With the party maintaining that its “double-engine government model at the Centre and in the states” has brought development at the doorstep of the “region neglected so far” may appeal to many. However, Punjab may be a different ball game because the deaths of about 700 farmers during agitation against farm laws may prove to be a major negative for the BJP because the wounds have not healed up..

In Punjab, where the BJP has not become a formidable electoral force on its own, the party is going for a gamble because it would be going without traditional allies Shirmani Akali Dal after more than two decades. After joining hands with smaller parties like former CM and
Congress rebel Capt Amarinder Singh’s newly-floated outfit Punjab Lok Congress, the BJP appears to be focusing on preventing the Congress from returning to power in the border state. However, BJP leaders hope that about 40 per cent Hindu voters may make a difference.  Also the BJP is trying to make inroads by taking advantage of the fluid political situation in the state. Party’s optimism also stems because prominent Sikh face and former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh of the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) and Modi factor could mean enormous gains to the saffron party in Punjab.  However, in view of multiplicity of players in election this time, the results would throw unexpected outcome.