The Punjab is proving to be pollsters’ nightmare in the new year. The savvy Punjabi voter, so outspoken most of the time, is known to create a surprise during election campaigns. And with the state ready for a five-corner contest, it becomes harder and harder to figure out which way he / she is going to tip over. The traditional parties in the fray have had a pretty checkered relationship with the state electorate. While the ruling Congress hit rock bottom in 1997, winning just 14 seats, his predecessor Shiromani Akali Dal peaked in 2017 when he could also muster just 14 seats. This, after having reigned over the state for two successive terms, a record in itself.
The Aam Aadmi party, a rookie in the last parliamentary elections, received an enthusiastic reception in the state, with NRI-laden planes rushing to solicit its little-known candidates, prompting many pollsters to give it a victory. But again, voters have proven everyone wrong by giving Congress an overwhelming majority instead.
Over the past year and a half, the state, whose farmers have led one of independent India’s longest agrarian turmoils, has seen a dramatic shift in its political landscape. Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party, whose alliance after the dark decade of activism was seen as a guarantor of community harmony in the state, were torn apart by the three farm laws in September 2020.
The state saw another breakup late last year when Captain Amarinder Singh, a former congressman and two-time chief minister, left the party in great anguish after his unceremonious ousting from the CMship , to form its own Punjab Lok Congress (PLC).
The BJP, which has been boycotted by angry farmers for over a year, becomes a main partner of the new PLC and the dissident Akali Dal faction led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, on the promise of security and a package fiscal center. . In this season of unusual bedfellows, the party also hopes to gain traction with members of Congress like Fateh Jung Bajwa and Rana Sodhi, although the anger shown by farmers during the prime minister’s visit does not bode well. But party leaders rely on emotion within a section to garner votes.
Besides PLC, the polls will see another new entrant in Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, a union of 22 farmers’ unions led by BS Rajewal, who recently applied for registration. With Haryana BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni saying his Sanyukt Sangharsh Party is in talks with Rajewal to form a common front, hope hangs over the divided unions. It is too early to say whether their goodwill in the campaign will translate into votes.
The ruling Congress, which came to power with an overwhelming majority in 2017, with 77 of 117 seats, a total they brought to 80 in 2019 polls, will go to the polls with a difficult partnership with Charanjit Singh Channi, the first Dalit CM in the state who prides himself on his shared touch, and flamboyant PPCC leader Navjot Singh Sidhu. Often the loudest voice against his own party, publicly questioning the allocations Channi announced and making it clear that he is in the race for the top position with his Punjab development model, Sidhu could turn out to be the proverbial double-edged sword. From now on, the party plays it safe by fighting the elections under “collective leadership”.
The AAP, which appeared to be in tatters when its number fell from 20 to 10 last year, is back in the account with party leader Arvind Kejriwal leading the ‘badlav’ call with the development model of Delhi and a multitude of “guarantees” to every part of the state, including women. His surprise victory in the Chandigarh MC polls further boosted his confidence.
Akali Dal, who turned 100 last year, was the early bird in those polls. The party, whose boss Parkash Singh Badal has been State CM five times, was the first to announce its candidates in February last year. These elections are a litmus test for party chairman Sukhbir Singh Badal as he strives to reclaim Akali’s framework and legacy, emphasizing his connection to the three Ps: Pind (village), panth and Punjabiyat.
All in all, this is a high stakes poll not only for parties but also for voters seeking deliverance.
How the Punjab voted in 2017
The long and short of the president’s rule
The state has been under presidential rule eight times for a total of 3,510 days since the country gained independence
June 1951 to April 1952: The assembly was suspended so that the state government could pull itself together
July to November 1966: Prepare the State for its reorganization
August 1968 to February 1969: The Assembly was dissolved after the fall of the coalition government
June 1971 to March 1972: The assembly was dissolved on the recommendation of the outgoing CM due to the party’s poor performance in the LS polls in March.
April to June 1977: Giani Zail Singh’s government dismissed after Janata Dal came to power at the Center
February 1980 to June 1980PM Indira Gandhi dissolved governments of non-Cong states, including that of Parkash Singh Badal on his return to power at the Center
October 1983 to September 1985: President’s rule was imposed due to internal insurgency
1987 to 1992: The Punjab was under the reign of the President for
the longest five-year period of the insurgency black decade