The Jalandhar reserved parliamentary seat by-election results seem to have taught a lesson to the conventional parties. The election outcome also demolished the archetypal structures of conventional parties, sirening an egalitarian Punjab.
Punjabis have shown that the religion-based politics of the once-all-powerful Shiromani Akali Dal, claiming to be the only party representing Sikhs, do not cut much ice with the peace-loving secular-minded populace of the state. The defeat of Congress can be ascribed to the previous blatantly corrupt and care-a-hoot approach of Captain Amarinder Singh’s regime besides its doubtful secular credentials.
The Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance, seen as partners of a pre-poll marriage of convenience, failed to convince Dalit-dominated Jalandhar to vote for a Jat-dominated Akali Dal candidate Dr Sukhminder Sukhi, though a Ramdasia himself. Not surprisingly, it tumbled to the 3rd position on the ladder of contesting candidates. The baggage of ‘Beadbi’ (sacrilege) of Guru Granth Sahib, not only decimated the Akali Dal but even seems to have made the BSP partners in crime.
AAP had lost Sangrur parliamentary by-election in less than 4 months after recording a historic victory bagging 92 seats in the Vidhan Sabha out of 117. The Sidhu Moosewala killing, shortly before the election, apparently turned the tables against AAP. It led to the chance victory of maverick Simranjit Singh Mann, whom Moosewala had promised support. But now, AAP can safely claim to have recovered the lost ground. It also means that campaigning by bereaved Balkaur Singh, the father of Sidhu Moosewala, with the passage of time, is losing the sympathy of the people.
Bhagwant Mann-government’s pursuit of anti-corruption policy has won him accolades. A Cabinet Minister and an MLA were arrested on charges of corruption. Another Cabinet Minister was dropped from cabinet after his audio to extort money from truckers surfaced. The zero-bill policy for electricity supply – is definitely bad economics as Punjab is already severely debt-ridden – yet it is winning votes. Such freebies will further add to Punjab’s economic woes and squeeze the already-limited resources which could be otherwise used for capacity-building and job creation. Well, the freebies politics is a legacy inherited and developed further from Badals.
Although grapevines in social, bureaucratic and journalistic circles predicting AAP going down the dump stands trashed by these results, it remains to be seen if the Jalandhar success story can be replicated in other constituencies in the parliamentary elections in 2024.
Till a couple of days back, this journalist was told by reporters covering the election from the field that it would not be surprising if the AAP candidate came to the 3rd position among the 4 main contestants of Congress, Akali Dal-BSP alliance and the BJP.
Jalandhar is inhabited by a large population of Dalits of different sub-castes with their prevailing social and economic contradictions. The dominant ones are the Ravidasias. AAP’s victorious candidate Sushil Rinku, a Ravidasias, polled 58, 691 votes more than Congress’ Karamjit Kaur Chaudhry, his nearest rival. For the last 24 years continuously, the Congress has been winning elections to this seat. Out of 71 years, since the first election was held in 1952, Congress won and remained saddled in this seat for 52 years.
During campaigning, Akali Dal – a signatory to Anandpur Sahib resolution’s demand for a ‘quasi-independent’ separate state – sought the services of its pocket borough, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) headed by Harjinder Singh Dhami. The use of Gurdwaras by Akalis for holding group meetings of Sikhs, especially in villages, did not much communally polarise the election process. The Akali-BSP alliance candidate, Dr. Sukhminder Singh Sukhi, lost by 1,43,833 votes to the AAP candidate.
BJP’s full-throttle campaign to win the seat backed by 3 Union ministers, including a Sikh, Hardeep Puri, failed. ‘Sabat Saroop’ (unshorn hair) candidate, Iqbal Singh Atwal, lost by polling only 1, 67, 479 votes to a Hindu nominee fielded by AAP. It signified that the Punjabis would not go by the attire or the religion either. Just as Akali Dal, the BJP workers too held election meetings in Mandirs, but it did not succeed in the polarisation of voters. The Atwals remained members of the Akali Dal since beginning under the leadership of Parkash Singh Badal and had recently joined the saffron party.
A telling defeat of Gurjant Singh Kattu of Khalistani Simranjit Mann’s party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), by 281, 913 votes to the successful Sushil Rinku, establishes that Khalistanis are a rejected lot by the majority of Punjabis, including most of the Sikhs. Mann’s rant in the election campaign, supporting and eulogising ‘Waris Punjab De’ president, Amritpal, now lodged in Dibrugarh jail, did not evoke any response, tells Web Tv journalist.
As per the details above it can be safely concluded, the winds of change are sweeping Punjab by and by, under the aegis of a party bestowed by the people with an unprecedented mandate in 2022, though the inexperienced commoners having humble backgrounds will essentially need time to acquire acumen to deal with men and matters.
We will come to the negatives of the Mann government on another day to help further improve its functioning and public image.