Looking London, Talking Tokyo: Punjab Politics Turns Turtle As Turncoats Have Field Day

It’s the first elections when all the major parties in the fray are contesting on their own making it a multi-cornered contest.

(Photo by Sameer Sehgal via Getty Images)
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, SAD leader Anil Joshi, Gulzar Singh Ranike with party workers during a "Punjab Bachao Yatra" start from Attari. on February 1, 2024 in Amritsar, India. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal via Getty Images)

Everything appears topsy-turvy in the politics being played out in Punjab during the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. The state has been an outlier as far as politics is considered by throwing up election results which did not reflect the general trends in the rest of the country.

This time around, the confusion among the voters is palpable and the movement of leaders from one party to another has an ironic twist around it. The ‘old Congress’ is the ‘new BJP’ in the state.

Former chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh and former Punjab Pradesh Congress party chief Sunil Jakhar, who had led the Congress campaign in the previous Lok Sabha elections, are now leading the campaign for their erstwhile rivals, the BJP Capt. Amarinder Singh had, in fact, defeated BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley from the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 when the Modi wave had swept the rest of the country.

The Congress, which suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the AAP in the 2022 Assembly elections, has proved to be the biggest reservoir for the poachers with a large number of its members joining either the BJP or AAP and even the Shiromani Akali Dal!

Ravneet Singh Bittu, the AICC secretary in-charge of Himachal Pradesh, a grandson of assassinated former chief minister Beant Singh, joined the BJP and was promptly rewarded with the BJP ticket from the Ludhiana constituency. Another Congress leader Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary, the wife of two-time MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary, who died while participating in Bharat Jodo Yatra, too joined the BJP when she was denied the ticket from the Jalandhar constituency and is hoping to get a BJP ticket from another constituency.

Capt. Amarinder Singh’s wife, Patiala MP Preneet Kaur also joined BJP recently and is now the party’s BJP’s candidate from the same constituency. Ironically, she is pitted against Dharamvir Gandhi who had defeated her as the AAP candidate in the 2014 elections. This time there is a role reversal, and he is the Congress candidate from the constituency!

The AAP, on the other hand, poached a sitting Congress MLA from Chabbewal, Dr Raj Kumar Chabbewal and nominated him to contest from Hoshiarpur Lok Sabha constituency. The party also welcomed former Congress MLA Gurpreet Singh GP and pitted him in Fatehgarh Sahib Lok Sabha constituency.

The lone sitting Lok Sabha MP of AAP, former Congress MLA Sushil Kumar Rinku, switched over to BJP recently and is now BJP’s LS candidate from Jalandhar constituency.

The AAP also poached three other Congress leaders Gurmeet Singh Khuddian, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal and Ashok Parashar Pappi, who all are now AAP’s LS candidates. It also weaned away former SAD leader Pawan Tinu who is now their candidate from Jalandhar.

It’s the first elections when all the major parties in the fray are contesting on their own making it a multi-cornered contest. For a long period of time, there had been direct contests between the Congress and the alliance partners Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party.

Aam Aadmi Party entered the fray in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and stunned everyone by winning four seats from the state while it drew a blank across the country. It then went on to whitewash all the other parties when it swept the 2022 Assembly elections.

SAD broke its alliance with the long time ally BJP over the issue of farmers agitation. Farmers are the backbone of the party and the prolonged agitation by farmers has led to the breaking point. Although the controversial legislation was taken back and farm laws were scrapped, the two parties have not got together despite last minute efforts for restoration of the alliance. This was because the BJP was demanding a larger share of seats. Traditionally BJP was allotted 3 of the 13 Lok Sabha seats from the state and 23 of the 117 Assembly seats. The talks failed when the BJP staked claim to the majority of the Lok Sabha seats from the state.

Another interesting feature of the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab this time is the absence of tall leaders like SAD stalwart Parkash Singh Badal who had been the dominant figure in Punjab politics over the last four decades. With Arvind Kejriwal in jail, AAP is dependent only on the chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann while the Congress, which had been led by Capt Amarinder Singh in the past, is without any strong leader on the ground. For chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi is contesting from Jalandhar constituency while Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had sought to run a parallel party, appears to have taken a back seat in the ensuing elections.

The multi cornered contests involving the Congress, the BJP, the SAD and AAP, besides the BSP which has broken its alliance with SAD, have left all possibilities open with no clear warning favour of any party.