Undoubtedly, there is a scope for the emergence of a regional party in Punjab. In fact, Punjab needs a strong and credible regional party with a politically mature cadre.
There are reasons for making such an assertion. For decades, politics in Punjab revolved around a regional party mainly the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a more than 100-year-old organisation. However, of late it became the victim of power politics and lost its shine as a regional political force.
This outfit, which came into being in 1920 as Akali Dal and remained central to the state’s politics before and after the Independence, years ago compromised with its ideology and regional agenda as it over-stretched its political ambitions. After fighting several long battles for the protection of Punjab’s and regional interests, years ago it moved away from panthic politics and gave a quiet burial to the State’s regional aspirations and demands. Consequently, its support base melted like an ice cube in a short span of a decade. Another reason for its steep fall is the dilution of its democratic character. It has been dominated by a few families and assumed a dynastic character.
Hence, there is a vacuum and to fill the same, there is a need for a regional party which could forcefully raise regional issues such as the distribution of river waters, transfer of Punjabi-speaking areas including Chandigarh to Punjab and the strengthening of federalism and so on. The SAD, which had almost become an extension of its alliance partner before it walked out of the alliance due to the pressure of farmers’ agitation dominated by Punjab farmers on Delhi borders, has not learnt lessons from its two successive defeats in Assembly elections in 2017 and 2022. It is trying hard to re-establish itself as a regional party, which it used to be till 1995 when it drastically changed its political and ideological stance at the Moga Conference held in its 75th year of origin. However, it is proving a hard task for its leadership because the new generation of youth, which has started playing a vital role in state politics, is not leaning towards the party due to a trust deficit. The blunders committed by its leadership (SAD) during its rule starting from 2007 to 2017 are proving a big hurdle in its revival.
It has been felt that the country’s federal structure is being consistently weakened and leaning towards a unitary system at a fast pace with the more and more centralization of powers at the national level. For protecting the regional/ local languages, culture and identity, the regional outfits, which provide diversity to the political spectrum of the country, have played a vital role. It is because regional parties, the main national parties, which had been ruling the country after the Independence, were unable to establish their monopoly over the politics and governance in the country. Regional parties such as DMK, BJD, AIADMK, TMC, RLD, TDP etc have been successfully fighting against the National parties by articulating the regional aspirations and fulfilling the same to the extent possible.
Punjab, which has suffered a lot due to its vehemence on the issue of decentralization of powers and strengthening of the states, has remained a big player in protecting the federal structure of the country and in a struggle for getting by the regional aspirations fulfilled. But that spirit is now missing. Hence, the scope and need for a regional party.