Why The Congress Did Well In 2024 Parliamentary Elections In Punjab

Looking back at the overall 2024 Lok Sabha elections verdict in India, Punjab’s ‘exceptionalism’ was very much on evidence

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Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi Addresses Election Campaign Rally In Amritsar Photo: Getty Images

Perhaps for the first time in the history of Punjab’s electoral politics, there was more than a four-cornered contest in most constituencies―Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The entry and the huge victory of two radical candidates, particularly Amritpal Singh and Sarabjeet Singh in Khadoor Sahib and Faridkot Parliamentary constituencies respectively, not only made these elections very interesting but have created a new situation for political parties and this will have far-reaching consequences in the future.

The Congress reaped a good harvest winning seven seats. Though the BSP put up its candidates in all the parliamentary seats, it failed miserably to make even its presence felt in the state in spite of one-third Dalit population in the state.

The verdict of the electorate in Punjab in favour of Congress against the national trend is not a new phenomenon as it also won eight seats in 2019 elections.

Looking back at the overall 2024 Lok Sabha elections verdict in India, Punjab’s ‘exceptionalism’ was very much on evidence. Punjab was the only state in north India where the BJP could not open its account in spite of more than 45 per cent Hindu population. The other exceptionalism was also visible if one considers the campaign issues raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his four rallies in Punjab. The narrative of Sikh issues, popularised by the BJP to its electoral advantage did not receive much attention in Punjab. The strong opposition by peasants’ organisations against the BJP sealed the fate of the party.

The other most significant development of the 2024 elections was the total rejection of the BJP agenda in the state. The party tried to connect with the Dalit Bhaichara and urban Hindus by using all means at its disposal but failed miserably. The party has neither succeeded in broadening its traditional urban upper caste support base nor has been able to raise a state level leader. It does not qualify as a winnable party on its own despite having a long-term presence in the state in the form of Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

In Punjab, the alliance had meant that the party remained confined to three and 23 seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha respectively since 1997 assembly elections as the Akali leadership has never allowed the state unit of the BJP to increase or even swap its share of seats despite their persistent demand.

On the other hand, the repeated electoral rout of the SAD in this election was especially glaring as it could only win only one seat from its traditional bastion (Bhatinda). The party could not recover since it supported the NDA to enact three controversial pro-corporate agriculture laws though it dumped the alliance under farmers’ pressure in 2021.

The leadership crisis in the party and its 10 year regime in the state (2007-17) is another factor of its losing core support in the state. The other important development of this election was the significant loss of the support of the traditional Sikh Jat community for the SAD and the question mark over the leadership of Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The biggest loss in this election is of the AAP, which suffered huge losses after winning 92 seats in 2022 assembly elections. Bhagwant Singh Mann could win only three seats. The outcome of this election has raised many questions over his leadership and the working style of his government.

The party failed to resolve the structural crises―agrarian unrest, drug trade, law and order, corruption and other governance related issues during his more than two year regime. Endemic factionalism, organisational weaknesses, centralised role of high command, dominance of the Delhi-based leadership, ideological bankruptcy, among other factors, seemingly put the AAP on the path of near oblivion in the state in such a short period of time.

Actually, the victory of two independent radical candidates is the manifestation of such unresolved issues which actually benefited the Congress as it could retain seven seats in these elections.

Finally, it was an election where the same electoral issues since the 2014 elections, namely the farmers’ distress, drug menace, lack of jobs, large-scale migration of youth to western countries, industries shifting to neighbourly states, corruption, depleting water table, education, unemployment, lack of development, law and order, were raised by the opposition parties, hardly received any positive response from both state and the Union governments. So, the results are a hope from the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi to resolve these issues.

Jagrup Singh Sekhon is a retired professor from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar