Perhaps for the first time in the electoral history of Punjab, the land of five rivers, assembly elections is also going to be pentagonal. Although the Election Commission has extended the date of voting to February 20 upon request of political parties in view of Ravidas Jayanti, as this date approaches, the excitement associated with the assembly polls is soaring amongst the parties.
So far Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, Aam Aadmi Party and Congress have announced candidates for most of the seats. BJP has so far declared 35 candidates in the alliance with former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh led Punjab Lok Congress(PLC) and Shiromani Akali Dal (United) of Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, while Captain Amarinder has declared 22 candidates including his candidature from Patiala city.
As the fifth front, the announcement of candidates is also in progress on behalf of the alliance of 22 farmers' organizations of Samukat Samaj Morcha and Samyukta Sangharsh Party. Balbir Singh Rajewal is leading the Morcha as CM face, while the Samyukta Sangharsh Party is being led by Haryana's farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni, who has got 10 candidates in alliance with Rajewal's Morcha.
Before the Election Commission extended the ban on election rallies till January 31, the ruling Congress, Akali Dal and AAP have already held fast rallies and made populist promises while the BJP alliance regrets not holding a single rally so far. BJP's attempt to make the January 5 incident of security lapse of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cavalcade an election issue against the Charanjit Singh Channi government has also failed.
In BJP, Punjab Lok Congress(PLC) and SAD (United) there is a screw over the selection of candidates. BJP, which so far has contested 23 out of 117 assembly seats as a hanger of Akali Dal for past three decades, will field its candidates on 70 to 75 seats as a big party for the first time. The BJP, which has repeatedly raised the issue of Khalistan, is not averse to taking along the Panthak leaders of Damdami Taksal for electoral victory. Captain Amarinder and Dhindsa's party will have to be content with the remaining seats.In fact, it is yet to be disclosed by BJP whether Captain Amarinder will be the chief minister's face in the new front.
Rajewal's Morcha and Chadhuni's party alliance
Initially, there was a talk of an alliance between the Samukata Samaj Morcha and the Aam Aadmi Party which later tirned out to be futile. After that, Gurnam Singh Chadhuni led Samyukta Sangharsh Party was asked for 25 seats and finally they agreed upon 10 seats. Samyukta Samaj Morcha's CM candidate Rajewal will contest from Samrala in Ludhiana where Congress has been in possession for three consecutive terms.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which was considered to be the main opposition party with 20 seats in the 2017 elections, is hopeful of reaching the threshold of power this time despite loss of nine MLAs from the party. The party has fielded MP Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial candidate, who is bound to be compared with stalwarts like Channi, Sidhu, Sukhbir Badal and Captain Amarinder.
In 2017, the Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh formed the government by winning 77 seats. The Akali Dal and BJP alliance were at number three after winning only 18 seats after being in power for 10 consecutive years. Despite the defeat, the Akali Dal's vote share stood at 25.24 per cent, while the Aam Aadmi Party secured 23.72 per cent by winning 20 seats.
Tussle in Congress
After Congress releases the first list of 86 candidates, a tussle has surfaced between CM Charanjit Singh Channi and State Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu regarding the next list of 31 candidates. While Channi is sticking to his choice, Sidhu continues to remain is adamant about the giving the ticket to candidates of his camp.
However, in the first list, the Congress high command has reposed confidence in 60 MLAs.
Chief Minister Channi will contest from his old seat Chamkaur Sahib while Punjab Pradesh Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu from Amritsar East. Sunil Jakhar, a big Jatt face who missed the opportunity of becoming the CM because of Congress high command's Dalit master Stroke Channi, has distanced himself from the electoral arena. He is replaced by his nephew Sandeep Jakhar from Abohar.
The four sitting MLAs who have lost hope are Ajaib Singh Bhatti, three-time MLA and deputy speaker of the assembly from Malout, Nathu Ram, two-time MLA from Baluana, Balwinder Singh Ladi from Sri Hargobindpur and Harjot Kamal from Moga. Actor Sonu Sood's sister Malvika Sood, who was successful in getting a ticket only a week after joining Congress, will fight from Moga. Harjot Kamal will now give competition to Malvika from BJP's side. Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa replaces his younger brother MLA Fateh Jang Bajwa from Kadian in the list. Fatehjung's who has joined the BJP may have a fight with elder brother Pratap,
Dr Manohar Singh, who resigned from the health department to contest the election from Bassi Pathana, could not get the ticket despite his brother CM Charanjit Singh Channi's efforts.Following this, Manohar Singh started a rebellion against the Congress by fielding as an independent candidate. Cabinet minister Brahm Mohindra, a five-time MLA from Patiala Rural, a close aide of Captain Amarinder, has been replaced by his son Mohit Mohindra.
It will be interesting to see to whom Captain Amarinder takes on against Navjot Sidhu who will be fighting from Amritsar East seat. Congress is yet to announce the candidate against Captain Amarinder from Patiala city, but the Congress has eliminated the possibility of a rebellion in the party by fielding all the MLAs who were close to the Captain.
How much effective is the Channi factor
Professor of Political Science, Panjab University Chandigarh. Ashutosh Kumar believes that making Channi the Chief Minister will have some beneficial effect on Congress as Dalits account for 32 per cent of overall voters in the state. He says, “The Congress won 21 of the 34 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes in 2017. This time this figure can go beyond 25. Especially in Doaba, the Congress can benefit."
Apart from Dalits, 40-42 per cent are OBCs and 19 per cent Jat Sikhs in the state. The influence of Jat Sikhs is in 55-60 seats. Apart from these, 45 seats are in urban areas where upper-caste Hindus can play a decisive role.
Dr Pramod Kumar, Director and Political Analyst, Institute for Development and Communication, has a different opinion. He believes that even though Congress has played a gamble by making Channi the chief minister for the last few months, the performance of the government in four and a half years may be overwhelming for the party. He says, “Political strategists make big promises to parties, but those promises are not fulfilled. Within four weeks of the formation of the government, Congress' promise to end the drug problem was not fulfilled. The promise of a job in every household also remained a promise.
CM Channi describes the 111-day tenure between becoming the chief minister and the imposition of the model code as better than the four-and-a-half-year tenure of the Captain Amarinder Singh government. Ahead of the polls, the CM has made lofty promises like three rupees unit power, jobs to one lakh youth every year and interest-free loans.
On the other hand, State Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu, presenting himself as the next Chief Minister, has promised to give two thousand rupees every month to housewives, eight free gas cylinders in a year, scooty to college girls, 20 thousand rupees to girls who pass 12th class, and an annual allowance of Rs 15,000 to the girls who have passed 10th and Rs 5 thousand to the girls who have passed the fifth.
Sidhu may be sitting with high aspirations, the party high command has given some different indications. A video was released on January 17 from the official Twitter handle of Punjab Congress, in which actor Sonu Sood is projecting Charanjit Singh Channi as the next Chief Minister. It is believed that it has been released from the official Twitter handle at the behest of the high command.
The Free Model of 'AAP'
Aam Aadmi Party too is trying to woo the people of Punjab with a lot of election promises. It has announced candidates for all the 117 seats after the alliance with farmers' organizations did not work out. AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal says that the Samukata Samaj Morcha was asking for 60 seats, so the alliance could not happen. Kejriwal is promising 300 units of free electricity and one thousand rupees every month to all women voters.
On AAP's election promises, Dr Pramod Kumar says, “Instead of presenting a long-term roadmap for the development of the state, the trend started by AAP is being followed by old parties like Congress and Akali. This is not your manifesto, but a menu-festo. On the lines of restaurants, 300 units of free electricity in the menu card, Rs 1000 allowance to women, farmer loan waiver, a guarantee of the vote in lieu of job guarantee. AAP has not done much to form the organization, it is only wooing people by selling the Delhi model.”
Farmers Angry with Akali Dal
The chief ministerial face of the Shiromani Akali Dal-BSP alliance is Sukhbir Singh Badal. Akali Dal has declared candidates on most of the 97 it got under the alliance. Party president Sukhbir Badal will contest from Jalalabad. The list does not feature the name of 94-year-old Parkash Singh Badal, a five-time chief minister. In a conversation with Outlook, Sukhbir Badal said, “The election for Badal Saheb will be fought from a long distance by his workers.”
The challenges of the Akali Dal, which broke the three-decade alliance with the BJP due to controversial agricultural laws, are no less. Parminder Singh Dhindsa, son of Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who shunned him, says, “The Akali Dal, implicated in family politics, tarnished the image due to incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and the case registered against Bikram Singh Majithia in the drugs case. Couldn't recover from He will also not get the benefit of breaking ties with NDA on agricultural laws as 22 farmer organizations are in the fray.”
According to Dhindsa, the Akali Dal is likely to suffer major losses, as they traditionally enjoyed support from rural areas and landlord farmers. People have not forgotten that they were involved in the central government and supported agricultural laws in Parliament.
The Akali Dal is also concerned about the alliance with the BSP. It is feared that 40 per cent of urban Hindu voters may turn their back on him. Perhaps this is the reason why Sukhbir Badal has announced that if the SAD-BSP government is formed, it will have two deputy chief ministers, one of them a Dalit and the other a Punjabi Hindu.
BJP, Captain, Dhindsa- The Trio
Analysts believe that Captain Amarinder's new Congress may not show any charisma, but may become a headache for others. Pro. Ashutosh says, “It is difficult to say who will harm Amarinder, but those Congressmen can go with those who did not get tickets.”
According to Prof. Ashutosh, Punjabi Hindus, who had earlier reposed faith in Amarinder after the alleged sacrilege in Punjab, are now looking at the BJP as a party that can protect their interests. The coming together of BJP and Amarinder seems to be in sync in favour of Hindu minorities.
Farmers' Political Front
Farmers have been influential in 76 assembly seats in rural areas of Punjab. On how much competition the Samyukta Samaj Morcha, headed by Rajewal, will be able to give to traditional parties, says Ranjit Singh Ghuman, agricultural economist, Punjabi University, Patiala, “Farmer organizations cannot win by forming a political party alone. They should form a party in which every section is represented, then only they can be successful." In response, Rajewal tells Outlook, “Of the 1273 candidates who applied for the 117 seats, Arjuna Awardees range from sportspersons to doctors. Every section will be represented in the candidates of the Morcha. It also includes farmers, businessmen, businessmen and former bureaucrats. According to Rajewal, instead of making lucrative promises to the public, we will talk about solving the problems of Punjab and the far-reaching development of the state in our manifesto.
Charanjit Singh Channi government has entered the fray by telling about 100 big and small announcements as its success. After Amarinder, the Channi government has also failed to take concrete action in the case of sacrilege and drugs. Channi government is claiming the FIR against Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia as a big action.
The issue of unemployment and complete loan waiver of farmers remains a thorn in the neck of Congress. The recent alleged incidents of sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the state are also an issue. Apart from big issues, every party is trying to reach power by making populist promises. In such a situation, it has to be seen on whose promises the voters trust more.