Elections in Punjab are always exciting and they are more so this time around with Farmers Protest and the Pandemic raging the ruling party. In this piece we take a look at different parties, their strengths, weaknesses and the strategies so far.
Before discussing the parties and their show in Punjab, it is important to discuss some of the problems that exist on ground and are a major challenge for all the parties. It is widely accepted fact that elections in Punjab have been fought majorly on the lines of ‘restoration of peace’ during the 90s, ‘drug free punjab’ in the years upto 2010, and then the panthic affairs majorly focused around justice for incidents of sacrilege or firings.
The situation in Punjab this time demands better manifesto from each and every party. The ongoing farmers protest has exposed the major parties in Punjab due to their implicit or explicit complicity in getting the bills passed. Each party has tried to milk the situation and has promised better provisions for the peasantry this time around. Farmer unions however remain adamant on their stand and principle that they are against one and all. The farmers unions have made it hard for all parties to take out rallies in Punjab.
In addition to farmers protest, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in the health infrastructure of country and states as well. The loopholes stand exposed which are now used by non ruling parties in Punjab to take on the ruling congress govt. Let us now take a look at different parties and their run down to 2022.
Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)
SAD remains the main opposition in Punjab with clear cut face of the chief minister. Sukhbir Badal has hardly stepped a wrong foot ever since the disaster of not understanding BJP’s anti farmer bills. Even though the cover up for complicity in getting the bills passed costed him the breakup with BJP as well as resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal But it was a decision well thought out with 2022 in sight.
SAD not only faces the challenges of angry peasantry but also is the main target of panthic circles due to its complicity in shielding the Dera supporters in firing and sacrilege cases. SAD is also guilty of whitewashing and providing clean chits to many involved in the sacrilege cases of Bahibal Kalan.
SAD is also considered as the party that is responsible for bringing in the drug mafia in Punjab. Even though SAD has been at the forefront of criticising the ruling congress party for its inability to handle the drug mafia the anger just doesn’t seem to cool off against its own people who have been promoting the drug mafia over the years. Many in Punjab believe that Drug Rackets are like golden egg laying hen that is passed down by Akalis to Captain and so on.
Strategies for 2022.
SAD has tried to milk panthic vote bank by using the Sikh genocide week of June. SGPC which is headed by women president of SAD decided to showcase the bullet hit saroop of Guru Garanth Sahib hi to Sangat after 37yrs. Many in the panthic circles have called the move purely political and in the wake of elections to gain Sikh votes by rubbing the salt on the wounds. There is some truth to this fact because SGPC has no answers on the missing items from the library and has no clarity on how and when will those be shown to Sangat.
Appeasement of lower castes and Dalits has been considered major game changer in the run down to elections of 2022. SAD had given hints by commencement of construction and restoration work of Ramgharia Bungas. Many in panthic circles had seen that as a move to appease the Ramgharia Sikhs. Three months after the decision to renovate the Bungas we see the alliance of SAD and BSP which is Dalit party in Punjab. The two parties have been in an alliance in the past but many in the political circles see this as an alliance of convenience and not of values. It also remains to be seen if Dalit party that hardly enjoys any vote share (1.5%) last time will do any good to fortunes of Akalis.
In the current scenario of Punjab, SAD is rubbing salt on the wounds of Dalits by bringing to the scholarship scam to create a wave against the ruling party. Akalis along with BSP state president Jasveer Singh Garhi courted arrest today in Chandigarh which has been called symbolic by the party. Add to it the irresponsible statements by ruling congress party members like Ravneet Bittu, the Dalit votes may be drawn towards SAD. SAD is also very certain on its promise of deputy cm post to a Dalit.
Congress like Akali Dal has been facing the anger of farmers all over Punjab. Congress is also blamed for its complicity in getting the bills passed. Difficulties for congress are however much greater than any other party. Punjab has been boiling since last one year with almost all sections of society protesting for something. While you read this the teachers of Punjab are making news for being lathicharged by police today. There has been a month long protest by sanitation workers in Punjab. Unemployment is at all time high due to the pandemic and other unfulfilled promises leading to protests by educated youth.
Punjab congress has also been unable to handle the pandemic in an efficient manner with two major scams emerging out of the pandemic. Covid Kit scam followed by the sale of vaccines to the private hospitals at higher prices has put the ruling party in the doc.
Congress has also failed to fulfil some of the promises made by the Captain himself. The drug mafia has grown in the rule of congress and farmer loans have not been waived off. The suicides by farmers has put a huge question mark on the working of party and its policies.
Punjab congress is undergoing internal conflict with Navjot singh and Pargat singh targeting Chief minister Amrinder singh. Sidhu and Pargat Singh have constantly blamed captain for being a monarch and someone who has failed to deliver on the Firing and sacrilege incidents. The implosion within the party is heard in Delhi with many rounds of meeting with high command of the party. The high command has suggested that congress enters the race for 2022 without the face of CM which makes things more interesting and hints at possible end of Captain Amrinder singh.
Congress has so far not played into the Dalit appeasement card but has maintained that the party will have good representation from the community. Congress party more or less sits complacent on its clean sweep in Muncipal and Nagar Nigam elections
Aam Aadmi Party
Out of the 50 respondents that I spoke to, 30 hold AAP in good faith and a party that is in the interests of people. The Hindu bania community of Punjab looks at AAP as an option but the wider Jat community of Punjab looks at AAP as transfer of power to Delhi. Many in the political circles of Punjab see Arvind Kejriwal as mere copy paste of saffron BJP and hence the hesitancy in giving control to the party.
AAP lacks the panthic representation in Punjab and has not been able to put up a serious face for 2022. Bhagwant Mann is not taken seriously by vast majority of punjabis. AAP has also played into the Dalit card by announcing its deputy CM candidate as a Dalit but has not been able to put a face on it.
AAP aims to leverage the farmers protest but the anger of farmers is also against this party. Balbir singh Rajewal in October 2020 said that Bhagwant Mann walked out of the house when he could have voted against the law. Walking out is complicity in the act.
AAP is protesting strongly against the ruling congress party on the issues of scholarship scam of 64crores, Covid-19 scams of Fateh Kits and also demands inquiry into sale of vaccines to private hospitals. AAP has avoided slandering the Akalis and has said that it is open to alliances as well.
The saffron giant of Delhi is a dead rat in Punjab. With Punjab BJP cadre facing the heat of farmers every single day since last 200 days there is very little for the party members to do on ground. There have been some rifts in the Punjab BJP on farmers Protest as well. In the meeting with JP Nadda today Punjab BJP has urged centre to solve the farmers issue.
Punjab BJP has its own Dalit vote bank which remains intact in spite of all the opposition to the party policies. BJP has promised a Dalit CM to Punjab for 2022.
Punjab BJP has said that it is fighting on all 117 seats hinting that there won’t be any alliance with other parties. BJP has been banking on the failures of congress govt like AAP and is trying to ride the wave. It remains to be seen if any possible solution to farmers Protest will help BJP in Punjab elections or will the party reduce its vote share in Punjab.
The situation in Punjab is developing every minute and it is very hard to predict one party that can take it home easily. It is important and worth mentioning that the Akali alliance with BSP & other Left parties like CPI (which has been hinted by CPI) May see some fight back by the Akalis. AAP with its more or less ‘an alternative that is never tried’ image may gain in Roots into Punjab and may form small alliances with independent candidates or the smaller Akali factions. Congress remains more or less the contender for 2022 as of this day. Things change drastically in Indian politics and no one is certain until the results are out. We will keep an eye on all developments around Punjab elections for you to form concrete opinion.