BJP rejigs Punjab unit with sights trained on 2024 polls

Having played the second fiddle for long to its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab, the state BJP has now packed its team with Congress turncoats and Sikh faces with an aim to gain ground ahead of the 2024 elections, reports Rajesh Moudgil

The Punjab BJP has picked up several Congress turncoats and Sikh faces as well as roped in many of its home-grown leaders in its recent revamp so as to expand its base to better its show in the 2024 elections.

While retaining its state president Ashwani Sharma, the party has announced the names of 60-odd office-holders in its new Punjab team adjusting most of the former Congress heavyweights who had joined the saffron party around the state assembly election in February this year.

The former Congress leaders among them included former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s daughter Jai Inder Kaur, former minister Raj Kumar Verka and former MLAs Kewal Singh Dhillon, Fateh Jung Bajwa and Arvind Khanna. They were among the new 11 vice-presidents named in the new BJP body.

Nonetheless, striking a balance, the BJP also named its home-grown leaders, namely, Dr Subhash Sharma, Rakesh Rathore, Dyal Singh Sodhi, Lakhwinder Kaur Garcha, Dr Jagmohan Raju and Jagdeep Nakai, as the vice presidents in its new team.

The BJP also named its own leaders Rajesh Bagha, Jiwan Gupta, Bikramjeet Singh Cheema and Mona Jaiswal, besides the former Congress leader Gurpreet Singh Kangar, as general secretaries in the new team.

Notably, Kanwarveer Singh Tohra, grandson of the former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Gurucharan Singh Tohra was named as the president of the BJP’s youth wing in Punjab.

Likewise, the party appointed 11 state secretaries. Its Hoshiarpur BJP leader Meenu Sethi was named as the president of the Mahila Morcha and the former IAS officer S R Ladhar was made the president of the Scheduled Caste (SC) wing of the party.

However, conspicuously enough, former Cabinet minister Balbir Singh Sidhu was not named in the new team. Reacting to it, he held that he was a loyal worker of the party and that the party leadership may have some other role for him in mind in days to come.

It is also pertinent to mention here that a little earlier, the former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and former state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar were named as the BJP national executive members, and party’s own leaders, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Manoranjan Kalia and Amanjot Kaur Ramoowalia as the special invitees to the national executive.

Notably, Capt Amarinder, 80, had floated the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) a little before the assembly polls after quitting Congress following bad blood in the party. However, his PLC had failed to win any seat in the assembly elections, and he himself lost from his home turf of Patiala Urban. He merged his PLC into BJP in August, this year. Jakhar, 68, joined the BJP in May this year, after five decades in the Congress, the party three generations of his family had served, also because of bitter bickering in the party.

Earlier, before the February polls, beside Kanwarveer Singh Tohra, the grandson of tall Akali leader late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, other prominent Sikh faces who had joined BJP included Harinder Singh Kahlon, former president of All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), Jagmohan Saini, president of Farmers’ Intellectual Front, from Patiala, Nirmal Singh from Mohali, Kuldeep Singh Kahlon, also from AISSF, Gurdaspur, former vice-chancellor of Guru Kashi University, Jaswinder Singh Dhillon, and Col Jaibans Singh from Patiala.

Meanwhile, subsequent to the state body, the state BJP chief Ashwani Sharma has also formed the state core committee as well as finance committee.

Stating that after a detailed discussion with the national president J P Nadda, senior leaders had been included in both these committees, senior state general secretary Jeevan Gupta said that the BJP would out-perform all opposition parties in the state in the coming parliamentary elections in 2024.

Special invitees to the core committee were party’s national vice president, Saudan Singh, chairman of the national commission for minorities, Iqbal Singh Lalpura, national general secretary, Tarun Chugh, national secretary, Dr Narinder Raina, former Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani and all five general secretaries of the state.

Elaborating upon the party’s revamp, the state unit’s media secretary Janardhan Sharma, says that the revamp was done with the party’s ideology to involve all with a collective effort and approach for growth of all.

“It is with this philosophy that the leaders from other parties who had joined and helped BJP have been accommodated in the new team’’, he said.

However, the political observers opine that with the recent revamp, the BJP aims at expanding its base in the state and gain ground in the areas of the leaders inducted in the rejig.

Was dumped by SAD in 2020

The BJP was a junior partner with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) till 2020 when it was never given more than 23 constituencies (out of total 117), and that too the urban seats only, since 1995, a major reason why it could not have Sikh leaders.

Having been dumped by the SAD in 2020 over the now-repealed farm laws, the BJP leadership decided not to have any truck with SAD. While the BJP Central leadership held it would not go for an alliance with SAD, the latter responded by stating that they would protect Punjab and would not bow before the Centre.

Repeal of farm laws notwithstanding – the BJP leaders may hate to admit it – the damage caused by the said farm laws was severe to such an extent that it left the Punjab BJP in a sticky situation ahead of election time. So much so, some senior leaders including the former minister and two-time MLA from Amritsar, Anil Joshi had also sided with farmers and later joined SAD.

The BJP, thus, in 2022 assembly polls, had an alliance with the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) floated by the former two-time and five-time legislator Capt Amarinder Singh as well as SAD’s splinter group – SAD (Sanyukt) – floated by senior Akali leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, but fared poorly.

While only the saffron party could win two seats and others faced a brutal drubbing – AAP registered a landslide win with 92 seats, Congress got 18, SAD, three and its ally, BSP, one while one independent legislator could make it to the assembly.