It has happened for the first time in the political history of Punjab that seven strong contending political parties (some in alliance with each other), with strong leading faces – have come down in the battleground creating an unprecedented fluid situation. All the political parties had equally impactful cards and represented themselves throughout on these lines – the ‘panthak’ and cultural image of Akali Dal, the secular image of Congress, the Hindutva and powerful omniscient stance of BJP, re- alliance of the Dalit vote bank of BSP, the ‘Delhi development model’ agenda based AAP, stalwart leader Amarinder Singh led Punjab Lok Congress, BJP alliance Akali Dal (Democratic) led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, hard liner Akali Dal (Amritsar) led by Simranjit Singh Mann, the farmer centered SSM (Sanuykt Samaj Morcha) which is a new entrant with a successful farm law agitation in its kitty.
This has made Punjab Elections 2022 a high pitched poll fray where vote banks got divided or should I say morphed like never before. Here is my take on who will get the mandate to form the government:
Past Trends & New Waves
The current Punjab was formed in 1966 and ever since it has had a strong Jat Sikh culture. With the exception of Giani Zail Singh there have always been Jat Sikh Chief Ministers in the state. The Scheduled caste and OBC vote bank too which constitutes 62% Punjab population has mainly been loyal to either Congress or Akali Dal. There has also been a single generation of leadership at the top for all the political parties – be it Prakash Singh Badal or Capt. Amarinder Singh.
It has happened for the first time in Punjab elections 2022 that political parties in Punjab are scourging for credible Dalit leaders for top shot positions. It has happened for the first time that the consolidated Dalit vote bank of parties has scattered due to multiple choices they have now. And it has happened for the first time that the Punjab politics is seeing a generational shift with younger leaders being declared as Chief Ministerial candidates.
Shifts & U- turns
As much hopeful the shift to the next generation of leadership, like that of Sukhbir Badal, Bhagwant Mann, Charanjit Singh Channi might look, it has in the run created a disruptive furor. While Akali Dal and AAP went through this shift with internal oppositions and saw many senior leaders exit the party, yet there was always a strong hold that weaved and kept the party men together in a much better way than Congress could. The internal furor of Congress has been a public debacle which has badly hurt its innings in the state.
Congress made two grave mistakes which led to u-turns and change in number game impacting all parties and will impact the results of the current polling.
First, the disrespectful pushing out of senior leader Amarinder Singh – the only leader of Congress party who had pan Punjab appeal, apart from Navjot Singh Sidhu who too have had a credible report card and strength to hold the party together. Congress did not choose him either. Clearly paving way to an ugly show where everyone wanted the biggest piece of cake.
Straight away Congress lost a share of vote bank here that wanted a strong leader to lead but did not get one! Second, when Sunil Jakkar was elected by its own party MLA’s, rather democratically as the party claims; again another very credible face was not declared as the CM candidate. Since all this was in public eye, Congress again lost a percentage of secular and Hindu voters here. Had any of the above leaders were given a chance then the situation for Congress would have been different.
However, with declaring Charanjit Singh Channi as the CM candidate, Congress aimed at strongly tapping into that big chunk of 62 % Dalit vote bank and compensate for the damage. It was an applaudable historic move too. But the ground to earth and ‘gareeb ghar ka beta’ political and emotional wave got backfired right before the elections with ED conducting raid on Channi’s relative.
This made the party slide to the third position from its top position in winning the Punjab elections 2022, especially when it had an edge over an already ducked in Akali Dal which was trying its best to keep itself afloat and AAP which was not able to make enough substantial ripples all this while to give a big fight.
Akali Dal was on backfoot with sacrilege and Bargari issue and was also sinking in the ire of its loyal panthak voters since it allowed the pardoning of rape accused Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda. However, it got back into the battleground due to the disillusionment that had set in the voters by the mess of Congress. Another factor that played in their favour was the vendetta politics with Bikram Singh Majithia, which was made personal by the changed leadership of Congress in the state. The hype that the party received in the Navjot Singh Sidhu vs. Bikram Singh Majithia battle in Amritsar East brought back Akali Dal in focus once again. While all this was happening, AAP despite the allegations against it was doing relatively well in its door to door campaign.
Number Game & My Take
Although an increased voter turnout was expected this time because of the silent wave for AAP and anti incumbency factor, yet the voters were disillusioned like never before with so many options before them which were all equally stained. This disillusionment is also one of the reasons behind 5.45 % drop in polling this time.
According to my observation, analysis and general conversation with people from lower income or marginal strata to upper income strata, I predict 54 to 60 seats for AAP, 25-30 seats for Akali Dal alliance, 27 – 33 seats for Congress and 4 -5 seats for BJP alliance.
AAP is likely to get majority but it would be won on a cusp. And if by chance it is a hung assembly then Kejriwal is most likely to get into an alliance with Akali Dal even though they are ideologically different. Many would consider it impossible for AAP to take this step. But I have three interesting arguments for my reader to think about. First, AAP does not have a Dalit vote bank to tap into. Second, the rural vote bank or image they want to attain in Punjab through SSM depends on how SSM performs, which looks bleak. AAP’s effort to have any other inner alliances with Sikh hard liners will not be good for them in the long run either. Third, AAP is projecting itself as a national party across India and will prefer to go in alliance with a regional party.
On the other hand, Akali Dal is in a do or die situation and needs to come back in power in one way or the other. Even if Akali Dal risks the shift of its traditional vote bank to AAP, it will still go ahead into an alliance with them.
Albeit, in politics nothing can be carved in the stone till the judgment day or even after. Let’s see what Punjab has voted for.