The political path of Punjab has always been different, no one's wind blows here

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
6 Min Read

Ashutosh Kumar

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Every state in the country has different options for elections and there are different political parties there. In such a situation, it can be said that every state is a mini democracy. For this reason, the best unit of analysis to understand elections is the states. Punjab has a lot in common with other states, yet there is something that makes it different.

Distance from Congress
The first reason is that even in the early years after independence, there was no 'Congress system' in Punjab. In comparison to other states, Congress was facing tough competition from Akali Dal and Jan Sangh here. This is the reason why formation of coalition governments was common in Punjab after the state reorganization in 1966.

political power
In the last three and a half decades, middle and lower castes have emerged as a political force in most states. But Punjab is different in this regard. Here one-third of the population is from the Scheduled Caste. Despite this, political power is in the hands of land-owning Jat Sikh farmers. This has become clear from the failure of the Congress in the last assembly elections. To avoid the anti-incumbency wave, the Congress made a Dalit Chief Minister at the last moment, but it did not help.

Weak BJP
In Punjab, BJP had an alliance with Akali Dal from 1997 to 2021. Despite this, the party has not yet been able to register its strong presence in terms of seats or vote percentage. This thing differentiates Punjab from other states, where BJP used to be weak earlier. There it formed an alliance with powerful regional parties and then became a winning party itself. Odisha, Bengal, Bihar, Karnataka are examples of this.

Local issues dominate
Punjab has never come under the influence of the wave going on in the country, neither during the time of Congress nor now during the time of BJP. BJP is trying to fight the elections on national issues like Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, security of the country and India's growing stature on the world stage, but it is not having much impact in Punjab. Here too, local issues have been decisive in the Lok Sabha elections.

AAP's strength
Punjab is the only state where the Aam Aadmi Party has managed to win any Lok Sabha seat so far. In the 2014 general elections, AAP was a two-year-old party and it won four out of 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. In the 2017 assembly elections, it became the main opposition party. Then in 2022, it captured 92 out of 117 assembly seats. AAP is in the fray in this general election as well.

distance from change
Ideological change is taking place across the country. Despite having a large Hindu population, Punjab is also untouched by this. Even after the Amritpal Singh episode and Simranjit Mann's victory in the Sangrur Lok Sabha by-election, there are no signs of radical ideas re-emerging in the Sikh community.

Fall of Akali Dal
Another thing that sets Punjab apart from other states is that regional parties are not doing well here. On the other hand, in many states, parties with regional political, cultural and economic agendas are challenging the big parties. The Akali Dal is more than a hundred years old party in Punjab. It has set the political agenda of the state since the days of British rule. But now it is continuously declining. Its condition is not because of the BJP, but because of its strategic mistakes and organizational issues.

Farmers movement
Punjab has the influence of a powerful farming community. In such a situation, the serious crisis facing the agriculture sector in the state after the Green Revolution is a matter of great concern. Farmers have been camping at the Sindhu border for more than three months. This reminds us of the farmers' movement of 2020, which took place in protest against the three agricultural laws.

Modi Magic
Now the big question is whether Punjab will stand apart from other states in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. After a long gap of 27 years, the BJP is contesting the elections alone in the state. It will be interesting to see the performance of the party in those seats where it is contesting for the first time and where there is a significant population of Hindus. These include the seats of Ludhiana and Jalandhar in particular. Similarly, there are also those Lok Sabha constituencies where the party has previously won in alliance with the Akali Dal. For example, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur have won five times, while Amritsar has won thrice. It will also be interesting to see whether PM Narendra Modi's magic finally works in Punjab or not.

(The author is Professor of Political Science at Punjab University)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own.

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