AAP Sans Kejriwal, BJP Sans SAD, Congress Sans Leadership: Will Punjab Throw Up A Surprise This Lok Sabha Polls?

The election has another contrast as none of the stalwarts of major political parties viz Prakash Singh Badal, Capt. Amarinder Singh and AAP Supremo Arvind Kejriwal are in the campaign.

(Photo by Sameer Sehgal via Getty Images)
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Amritsar Constituency Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal with party leaders during a road show ahead of the Lok Sabha election at Hall bazaar on April 25, 2024 in Amritsar, India. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal via Getty Images)

The north Indian state — historically rich, culturally and politically diverse, Punjab will go to the polls on June 1—the final and last phase of the 18th general elections.

A dynamic shift in Punjab’s core politics --- the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) following its victory in the 2022 assembly poll, severed ties between traditional allies, Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP and Congress losing its traditional base almost across the state, has made the elections intense and enormously fierce.

“Mission 13-0” as Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann described the elections, is sole star campaigner stepping-up efforts to ensure party’s victory after AAP convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest in the liquor policy scam by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Amidst soaring temperature in Punjab — the politically hot Malwa belt and landmark Majha region ( Panthic belt), home to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the poll fever is slowly gripping Punjab with high profile candidates and leaders reaching-out to the voters in the largely inhabited villages and urban towns with new promises.

Plagued by factionalism, the Congress is making an earnest bid to re-discover its lost identity in the state’s political landscape. As the grand old party could not stitch its alliance with INDIA bloc member--- the ruling AAP finding potential candidates in Punjab is its biggest dilemma. It's also because dozens of party leaders including sitting MPs, and former MLAs have left the congress to join BJP viewing their political prospects dim in the Congress.

The regional player SAD, having chosen to go alone, after its talks for seat sharing with BJP failed, says “going solo in the 18th general elections will mark the party's return to its core principles. Our principles are most important to us and can't be compromised. We stand solidly with farmers and demand that all promises made to them during agitation be met and Sikh detainees (Bandi Sikhs), who have completed their jail terms be released forthwith" says Sukhbir Singh Badal, SAD Chief.

The election has another contrast as none of the stalwarts of major political parties viz Prakash Singh Badal, Capt. Amarinder Singh and AAP Supremo Arvind Kejriwal are in the campaign.

Yet, the Lok Sabha elections are a significant test to see how farmers’ agitation against three farm laws and this year’s protests on Delhi borders to seek legal guarantees on MSP, will impact BJP’s prospects in Punjab or, will the party's Hindutva agenda actually weigh to its side. Maybe Punjab --known for bucking the national trend, surprises the national parties, the BJP being the biggest stakeholder.

There have been reports about BJP candidates—Hans Raj Hans—Singer -turned BJP’s Faridkot candidate, Gurdaspur candidate Dinesh Kumar Babbu and four-time Patiala MP Preneet Kaur and Amritsar candidate Taranjit Singh Sandhu, a former US ambassador, facing protests, slogans and also shown black flags by groups of agitating farmers during their campaign, public meetings and roadshows. Whether these are sporadic incidents backed by AAP and Akali Dal (as BJP alleges) or genuine anger prevailing in parts of Punjab, against the Centre's NDA government, need to be viewed seriously.

Babbu, a three-time former MLA, who replaced film actor Sunny Deol, twice ran into trouble from the protesting farmers last week. Factions of the farm unions are regularly blocking his entry into villages in the Sikh majority areas.

“As a result, his constituency is seeing a sharp polarisation on religious lines between Sikh and Hindu voters” says Vinod Kumar, a local trader at Gurdaspur.

Punjab has 13 Parliamentary seats of which the Congress had won eight in 2019 defying the pro-Modi wave sweeping the northern and central India. Two each were one by the SAD and BJP –then alliance partners. But, the Congress is no longer a big force to put-up an electoral challenge to the regional players. 

The Aam Aadmi Party had won just one seat – Sangrur. But, after Bhagwant Mann –who got elected here, became Chief Minister following AAP splendid poll victory in 2022, the party lost this seat to Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar (SAD-A) candidate Simranjit Singh Mann.

This time, of 13 candidates, AAP has fielded in the state, five are cabinet ministers and three others sitting MLAs beside a Punjabi film actor Karamjit Anmol.

Party’s lone MP Sushil Kumar Rinku, who was elected in Jalandhar bypoll in 2023, has caused a jolt to the party joining the BJP to contest the election on saffron party’s ticket.

The Punjab poll story is a major shift for the BJP. Since 1996, the party largely sharing its vote bank with SAD—which continued to enjoy a strong rural base and support of the Sikh community. SAD stalwart Prakash Singh Badal, who was the main architect of the alliance, had given the BJP quite a space, and also shared the power inducting BJP leaders in his cabinet.

Badal Sr was often heard saying “Akali Dal's unconditional support to the BJP is for Hindu-Sikh unity. Our bond is like "flesh and nail".

But much water seems to have flown in Punjab’s five rivers ever since the Akali Dal’s new leadership under Sukhbir Singh Badal took the party command and decided to follow the party's core ideology --the ‘panthic’ agenda.


The alliance ran into trouble 2020-21 during farmers’ agitation against three controversial farm laws. The SAD distanced itself from the BJP to project itself as a “pro-farmers” party. It hoped that the party's stand against the farm laws would pay dividends in the 2022 assembly elections. But, it did not work.

Instead, AAP stormed to the power winning 92 seats in the 117-member Assembly. The stalwarts like Parkash Singh Badal also lost his Lambi seat while Sukhbir Singh Badal was defeated in Jalalabad. His brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia also lost.

Says BJP’s Ludhiana candidate Ravneet Singh Bittu—a three-time Congress MP “the SAD’s role even as an ally of the BJP was dishonest. It’s leaders not only opposed the three farm laws, for political gains, but also misguided the central government on the issue, initially providing positive feedback but backtracked later.”


“I pledge to hold constructive discussions with farmers after the elections, ensuring they receive a warm reception and earnest consideration from the Prime Minister Modi. He (Modi) genuinely feels for the farmers and Punjab” he assures.

The Akali Dal and BJP had started inching closer ahead of the 2024 Parliamentary elections, talks also started on seat sharing. But farmers 'Delhi Chalo movement (2.0 agitation) for legal guarantee on MSP for all crops queered the pitch for a fresh alliance. Hindutva agenda of the saffron party was also a factor jeopardising the talks.

 Says Kanwalpreet Kaur, a professor of political science at Chandigarh “breakdown of the SAD-BJP alliance was inevitable because ideologically both were poles apart. Politically also they were not identical parties as both had their own core vote banks. The farmers’ agitation, which primarily had its origin and backing from Punjab, gave SAD an occasion to prove to Punjabis as "where it does stand ideologically”.


The BJP will seek vote on Hindutva agenda (the Ram temple) achievements of Modi government opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, implementation of the CAA, abrogation of Article 370, measures like the empowerment of women with 33 per cent reservation in Parliament but the road to the polls is going to be still dumpy in Punjab .Yet, few candidates, who have joined the BJP from the Congress and carries their legacies along will make difference to the party.  

For example, Ravneet Singh Bittu, grandson of slain Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, known for his influence in Ludhiana or Preneet Kaur, wife of capt Amarinder Singh and former union minister could stand-out. Bittu has been openly saying that the Congress refusal to accept the invitation to the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony was the tipping point for him to join the BJP.


First-time, after its ally SAD has chosen to go alone, the BJP is also building-up its bridges with Sikhs and bringing estranged Congress, AAP and Akali Dal leaders to its fold.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP leaders including BJP national President J P Nadda, and union home minister Amit Shah had held a series of pre-poll rallies in Punjab. On April 27, Nadda inducted around 1,500 sikh leaders in the saffron party at New Delhi. They also included members of Delhi Sukhu Gurdwara Management Committee.

But Punjab is facing other serious issues also, says Kanwalpreet Kaur, “Issues of unemployment are forcing migrations. The youths are leaving homes to go abroad, settle there or get work. Drug problem has wiped out a generation. The Punjabis are facing a double whammy at home and also abroad”.


Senior Punjab Congress leader Pratap Singh Bajwa says the BJP may be making tall claims of crossing 400 mark, but fact remains that they don't have a base in Punjab. "The party is borrowing rebels from the Congress and AAP to fight the Lok Sabha poll. I feel pity for the party and its old ally SAD. Both will draw blank this time", he says.