A Five-Cornered Contest Looms Large As Punjab Gears Up for Closely Contested General Elections

by Rajinder Singh Taggar

Punjab, often called the heartland of India’s political landscape, is gearing up for general elections that promise to be a keenly contested affair. With a five-cornered contest in most of the constituencies on the anvil, political activism in the state is getting revived. Politics is undergoing significant shifts, presenting a unique, multifaceted picture as, for the first time, the BJP is independently vying for power and relevance.

The state’s political arena is dominated by the  Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Indian National Congress (INC),  Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), among others. Traditionally, SAD and Congress have been the major players, each with its loyal voter base. However, the emergence of AAP in recent years, especially with its victory in 2022, has added a new dynamic to Punjab’s political landscape. This time the BSP is fielding its candidates after doing away with its alliance with the SAD.

Coalition politics is typical in Punjab, and pre-election manoeuvring often involves the formation of alliances and strategic partnerships but not this time. Historically, the SAD and BJP had a long-standing alliance. They developed strains in their relationship during the farmers’ Delhi agitation in 2020 and would contest elections independently of each other. At the same time, despite the formation of the INDIA alliance at the national level, the Congress and AAP would not have any alliance at the state level. 

The ongoing farmers’ protests against the central government’s failure to fulfil its promises during the historical year-long Delhi dharna, which annoyed the peasantry, would significantly impact Punjab’s general election landscape. Parties are being judged mainly on their stance and support for the farmers’ demands, besides the performance of the ruling AAP, which will be the litmus test of their commitment to Punjab.

The issue of drug abuse among the youth has come to the forefront with ruling party MLA from Amritsar, north Kunwar, Vijay Partap, accusing his own member of Rajya Sabha, Raghav Chadha, of being indirectly involved in the sale of narcotics in the state. Last week, he alleged at a public rally that Chadha’s two police officers posted in Amritsar are hand-in-glove with drug smugglers. People remember that AAP Convener Arvind Kejriwal declared that the drug menace would end in one month if the party formed a government in the state.  

Like many other states, Punjab faces unemployment, especially among its youth. For the last fifteen years, regular recruitment in government departments has remained nil. It was only after AAP came to power that regular jobs were advertised, which is likely to help AAP to some extent. Parties will need to address this issue by announcing their long-term policy to generate employment opportunities.

Given Punjab’s diverse and politically aware electorate, parties are expected to adopt a mix of traditional and modern campaign strategies. While traditional methods like public rallies, door-to-door canvassing, and street corner meetings remain popular, parties are also leveraging social media platforms to reach out to a younger audience.

Candidates are being chosen based on their popularity, and ability to spend money to win. The credibility and honesty factors have been forgotten. Candidates exhibiting a strong presence, rightly or wrongly, are preferred by parties.

The pre-election political situation in Punjab is characterized by intense competition, shifting loyalties, and a focus on emotive issues, not the real ones, that momentarily resonate with the electorate. As parties gear up for the election, the stakes are high, and the outcome will have far-reaching implications for the present ruling party in Punjab, the AAP.

While traditional parties like SAD and Congress have their work cut out to retain their stronghold, the emergence of BJP and, previously, of AAP regional players add a layer of unpredictability to the electoral battle. As the campaign unfolds, it will be interesting to see how parties navigate these challenges and whether they win the hearts and minds of Punjab’s diverse electorate.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Rajinder Singh Taggar

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