The tussle for the state in 2022 will see a quadrangular contest between the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the BJP and the AAP
The political landscape in Punjab just months before it goes to polls has never been so muddled in the last few decades.
The Congress is in the doldrums as Captain Amarinder Singh, unable to bear the humiliation, resigned on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), continues to hop in the state with a handicap of peoples’ ire against the leadership ignited by legacy issues of sacrilege cases during its last tenure and delayed response in standing up to counter its erstwhile ally, the BJP on the three contentious farm laws.
The Aam Aadmi Party, who is gradually making its presence felt in the state, also lacks a face. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too are struggling to make their presence felt after the dismal end of its political honeymoon with SAD.
As these parties try to grapple for power, here’s a clear understanding of the parties and where they stand in the state.
Presently, the Congress rules Punjab after it came to power under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh and has 80 MLAs in the 117-member Assembly.
The Congress is hoping for a repeat in 2022 but its chances seem to get dimmer, considering the turmoil it is facing with rival factions and Amarinder’s resignation.
The 2017 victory for the Congress gave it some much-needed relief, as it continuously saw itself losing its grip over the country since its defeat in the 2014 general elections.
A closer look at the victory revealed that the Congress had a vote share of 38.5 percent, but this was 1.5 percent less than its share in the 2012 state elections.
The party seems to be struggling with factionalism and the in-fighting can be traced back to 2019 when Amarinder Singh’s bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was brought into the Congress fold by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, resigned from Captain’s Cabinet after months of squabbling.
As time passed by, Sidhu kept targeting the chief minister over various issues.
Recently, the issue came to the fore when Sidhu took charge as state party chief in July 2021leaving the chief minister to sulk but with no other option than to accept the changed realities.
The situation seemed to have resumed normalcy when Amarinder Singh was seen at the event when Sidhu took over as the new chief of the Punjab Congress.
In his speech, Sidhu had struck a conciliatory tone, saying, “All Congress workers in Punjab have become the party’s state unit chief today. There is no difference between a leader and a worker.”
Speaking about the upcoming polls, he had said, “Punjab will win, Punjabis will win.”
However, with the Captain’s resignation on Saturday, it seems very difficult for the Congress to wrestle power again in the state.
Speculations have already begun over who will take the help of the party, with the names of Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Ambika Soni doing the rounds.
#AmrinderSingh was the only leader in @INCIndia who has supporters across party lines. If Sidhu becomes the new Chief Minister of Punjab, it will be for the first time in the history that a head of state is best buddies with Prime Minister of Pakistan and Pakistan Army Chief.
— Shesh Paul Vaid (@spvaid) September 18, 2021
Shiromani Akali Dal
The Shiromani Akali Dal was considered the power house of Punjab politics with Parkash Singh Badal being the chief minister four times (27 March 1970–14 June 1971, 20 June 1977–17 February 1980,
12 February 1997–26 February 2002 and 1 March 2007–16 March 2017.
In the 2017 elections, contesting along with its then ally — the BJP — the party was decimated when it only wrested 15 of the 117 seats. SAD’s vote share dropped sharply, from 34.7 percent in 2012 to 25.2 percent.
There were two key reasons for the decline of the Akali Dal: the anti-incumbency wave and the rise of AAP.
The Akali Dal, which walked out of the NDA last year, deserting its 23-year-old ally BJP, has entered into an alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. The coalition hopes to work out a Sikh-Dalit consolidation.
The SAD-BSP alliance had contested the 1996 Lok Sabha polls together and won 11 out of 13 seats in Punjab but the very next year, the Akali Dal allied with the saffron party for the state polls. Thereafter BSP and SAD never came together on a political platform.
There are doubts whether the Akali Dal can transfer its votes to the BSP candidates considering the deep divisions members accumulated over the years.
The Akali Dal also has to face the wrath of the people over its lack of action in the 2015 sacrilege case in which police had fired at civilians protesting the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Additionally, they also have to answer for their delayed response to the contentious farm laws in a state where its economy is mainly dominated by agricultural production.
Aam Aadmi Party
In Punjab, the AAP is the newest in the political bloc. It won 20 seats in the 2017 elections with a vote share of 23.7 percent.
The AAP is hoping to capitalise on the feud in the Congress.
In an attempt to woo voters before the polls, the AAP recently announced free electricity to Punjabif voted to power and waive off unpaid power bills at a time when the Amarinder government is facing criticism for mounting power tariffs.
Though it went to the polls without a chief ministerial face in 2017, the AAP has categorically said this time that it will have a leader from the Sikh community if it comes to power.
In 2017, many felt the AAP was on the cusp of winning Punjab but it gradually lost steam.
The party needs to balance its actions and words as well.
Despite having Prime Minister Narendra Modi and master strategist Amit Shah, the BJP is in a tight spot in Punjab.
In the last Assembly polls, the BJP, which was in alliance with the Akali Dal, had contested 23 seats in alliance with the SAD and won only three seats. The party saw its vote share declining from 7.2 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent.
With no prominent pan-state face and the total absence of a cadre base, the party is struggling to find candidates for the 117 Assembly seats.
The saffron party is also facing farmers’ anger over the three contentious farm laws enacted by the BJP-led-government at the Centre.
One thing all the political parties will have to remember is that whoever comes in power will have to face challenges such as the extent of the drug problem in Punjab, increasing unemployment or lack of jobs, the deterioration of soil quality and declining water tables, worsening of the agrarian situation, the failure of local industries and increasing of migration abroad.
With inputs from agencies