The Punjabi vote in Delhi has always been a decisive factor for any election. One reason why the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking to wrest power from the Congress in Delhi, is struggling to pose a serious challenge is because it has shifted its focus from the huge Punjabi population and concentrating on wooing sections that have not been its supporters, while giving the reins of leadership to the Vaish community.
The Aam Aadmi Party too would have made greater progress had it kept some prominent Punjabis in its front line. It is evident that AAP is aware of this and made enormous efforts to somehow get Kiran Bedi to contest polls on its ticket.
In sharp contrast, the Congress has used the ‘P’ factor to win polls in the city during the past three decades. Of the seven ministers in the Delhi government, five, including Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, are Punjabis.
The other four are Ashok Walia, Arvinder Singh, Ramakant Goswami and Kiran Walia. Two of the seven Congress Lok Sabha MPs — Ajay Maken and Kapil Sibal — are Punjabis. Earlier, HKL Bhagat and Jag Parvesh Chandra spearheaded the party’s efforts from 1978 when the second split in the organisation took place.
These facts make it more than clear that in Delhi’s politics, Punjabis have always played a pivotal role.
What has come as somewhat of a surprise is that in the BJP, which was a Punjabi party in Delhi to begin with, there seems to be a titanic tussle to ensure that the future leadership remains in the hands of either the Vaish community or with those who are fresh migrants to the city.
This is unusual given that the Punjabi population is more than two times of the Vaish population and accounts for nearly 35% votes. In addition, the Sikhs form 5% of the votes.
In fact, the Jana Sangh, which preceded the BJP, was the beneficiary of the huge support from Punjabis who had come to Delhi in large numbers after Partition. For instance, the Jana Sangh was co-founded by both Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Balraj Madhok, a Punjabi.
The Jana Sangh in Delhi during its peak had leaders like Madhok, Vaid Guru Dutt, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Dr Bhai Mahavir, Kidar Nath Sahani, Balraj Khanna, Hardyal Devgun, Madan Lal Khurana, Manohar Lal Sondhi, Hansraj Sethi and Jagdish Mukhi. At that time, the top leaders from the Vaish community were Hansraj Gupta, Kanwarlal Gupta, SN Bansal and Charti Lal Goel (Vijay Goel’s father).
The Jana Sangh/BJP was always led by one of the top Punjabi leaders and its golden period was when first Malhotra in the sixties and later Madan Lal Khurana were in the forefront. The decline of the BJP coincided with the marginalisation of Khurana — who was projected as the CM nominee in 2003 but was a victim of inner party conspiracy. Malhotra did not get sufficient support from his own party in 2008.
Instead, the BJP has had four Vaish leaders as its successive presidents in the last few years — Mange Ram Garg, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Vijendra Gupta and now Vijay Goel. All the three mayors are non-Punjabis as are the three chairpersons of the three standing committees of the civic bodies. In 2008, the BJP did not give even a single ticket to a Punjabi in the trans-Yamuna area despite the fact the community has a large presence in at least seven assembly segments.
There are only five Punjabi BJP MLAs and four of them — Jagdish Mukhi, Harsharan Singh Balli, OP Babbar and Subhash Sachdeva — come from west Delhi while Malhotra represents Greater Kailash.
The allegations against the top BJP leadership today is that it has been ignoring Punjabis and giving tickets to people from other communities even though in those particular constituencies, they are the dominating community. In addition, they control many market associations.
But the top names under consideration for being projected for the position of the chief minister are Harsh Vardhan and Vijay Goel. What is baffling is that both Malhotra and Mukhi, who are very senior, stand nowhere.
With the elections drawing nearer, it will be interesting to see how the various parties woo this very strong and aggressive segment in the city. It is a significant coincidence that the three presidents of the parties — Vijay Goel, Jai Prakash Aggarwal and Arvind Kejriwal are all from the Vaish community.