Punjab’s political pot continues to spin

National and regional parties are working hard to boost their presence in the border state

The churning in the political pot of Punjab continues even after the people of the state elected a government, giving a raw majority to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) just three months ago. A parliamentary by-election necessitated by the elevation of Bhagwant Mann to the post of Chief Minister became a catalyst in this process.

Mann had to renounce his membership in Lok Sabha from Sangrur constituency in Malwa region from where he was elected twice in 2014 and 2019. The unfolding scenario is interesting and will dictate developments leading up to the 2024 elections in Lok Sabha, and the next Assembly because all the political parties are absorbed there.

Congress has been routed in recent polls as it won only 18 of 117 seats, and the exodus from the party continues. Former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh split before the election, former State Unit leader Sunil Jakhar recently joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other leaders of the Congress, including former ministers and lawmakers, followed suit. These include names like Raj Kumar Verka, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Gurpreet Singh Kangar and Sunder Sham Arora.

What makes the BJP an attractive destination for these politicians, given that the saffron party hasn’t fared well in recent polls and its popularity among ordinary people continues to be quite low lately? ‘actual hour ? The second question that arises is: why does the BJP insist on taking these leaders, especially from Congress? This becomes relevant in light of the opinion of political observers who believe that except for Jakhar who carries an image and reputation of his own, the others will not benefit the saffron force in any way.

Jagrup Singh Sekhon, a renowned political scientist and expert on Sikh political history, explained, “One can understand this through popular Punjabi saying ‘majj bhukki te tuudi gilli’ (a hungry buffalo is even ready to eat wet straw). The hungry buffalo here is the BJP which is trying to broaden its base and is not averse to welcoming anyone, despite the fact that the Congress leaders were defeated by the people in the elections.

Sekhon added that to understand that times have changed and people think differently, “the farmers’ movement has made voters very aware. They expressed their anger against the “established” rulers by beating them. ‘Orphans’ who have had no sponsors should not be counted anywhere in the emergent scenario,” he added.

Similarly, Vijay Bombeli, a political observer and chronicler of political history in Punjab, said, “It is all about lust for power and there is no desire to do favors for the people. With their baggage of wrongdoing in the past, many feel that the choice before them is either to join the BJP or face the ED (Enforcement Leadership).

He added, “The BJP needs a foothold. The perception among political parties is that a leader of another party comes with his gang of supporters. But the fact is that only the leaders go there and not the voters. In such a scenario, it is the AAP that will benefit. Many believe the BJP will challenge the 2024 polls in force and seek to capitalize on the Hindu-Sikh narrative that first emerged in recent polls.

Moving on to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is India’s oldest regional party, the traditional political powerhouse is desperately trying to revive its fortunes in Punjab’s electoral milieu. Observers say the party is once again turning to panthic politics for its revival.

This is evident in his decision and that of his ally the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to present Kamaldeep Kaur for the by-election of Sangrur Lok Sabha. Kamaldeep Kaur is the adoptive sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana who is an assassin of former Chief Minister Beant Singh and is a death row inmate. Rajoana had called on the people to vote for the SAD candidates ahead of the recent polls while he was on parole.

Through this candidacy, the Akalis are playing on the question of the “Bandi Singhs” (Sikh prisoners who continue to languish in prisons after serving their sentences).

The Akalis have tried to cast her as the common panthic candidate and she had even reached out to Simranjit Singh Mann of Akali Dal (Amritsar) known for his hardline politics who is also a by-election candidate. “The SAD joined forces with panthic organizations to elect Biba Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana to Lok Sabha to send a strong message to Parliament to release all Bandi Singhs (Sikh prisoners) including Bhai Balwant S Rajoana, who are in jail even after serving their life sentence.. It is our imperative duty to relieve all Bandi Singhs including Bhai Balwant S Rajoana from the intense suffering they are enduring. Bhai Rajoana has been incarcerated in an 8×8ft cell for 28 years without parole except once when he was allowed to attend his father’s cremation I call on Punjabis to eliminate all political differences to secure the freedom of Bandi Singhs Also earlier, Pbis united in 1989 to elect S Simranjit S Mann to Lok Sabha in absentia which resulted in the latter’s unconditional release from prison. The same unity is needed today,” said the meadows SAD ident Sukhbir Singh Badal in his tweets.

Other candidates in the fray are Dalbir Singh Goldy of Congress who had also contested the Assembly poll against Bhagwant Mann of Dhuri seat, Gurmel Singh of AAP who has been a party volunteer and Kewal Dhillon of BJP who is a import from Congress.

Observers also believe that the recent reported statements coming from the Sikh clergy, particularly those of Akal Takht acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh to Sikhs to train in weapons and arm themselves, is yet another initiative. to bring the Akali back to the forefront of panthic politics. .

But the Akalis are struggling to shake off the baggage accumulated during their decade-long tenure in power in alliance with the BJP. The alliance only ended when they had to withdraw under pressure from the peasant movement. Whether it was the granting of pardon to Dera leader Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for blasphemy by the Akal Takht, which was later revoked following an outburst from the public, or the failure to carry the cases of desecration of sacred texts which also saw the killing of innocent people in police shootings during a public protest in Behbal Kalan in 2015 to the logical conclusion, the Akalis continue to face public anger. Add to this their continued alliance with the BJP even after the enactment of the three “anti-people” farm laws and in fact their defense of these laws until they are forced by the emerging scenario to end the alliance. .

“There’s no chance of Akali’s revival through such moves as raking in panthic issues. People continue to be against them and they have been weakened by the BJP over the past few months,” Bombeli said. “They can’t go back to the days before 1996 because things have changed a lot since then. Their fortune is on the decline and people are disappointed with the Badal family. The group can no longer pretend to be panthic. Their base of support, made up largely of peasants and women, has moved away,” Sekhon stressed.

Observers say people also want to stay away from radical politics because the shadow of what they experienced during years of activism continues to haunt them and they don’t want the “dark days” to return. As for Sangrur’s by-vote, it is widely believed that the AAP will be the favorite followed by Congress.

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