The Punjab Lok Sabha elections: Takeaways - Hindustan Times

The Punjab Lok Sabha elections: Takeaways

Jun 08, 2024 12:47 AM IST

BJP, contesting alone after 27 years, was unable to win even a single seat. It, however, polled 18.4% of the vote, larger than its erstwhile ally, the Akali Dal

The 2024 election in Punjab has the following five takeaways for consideration.

Mansa, June 01 (ANI): Voters cast their vote at a polling station for the 7th phase of the Lok Sabha Polls at Moosa Village in Mansa, Punjab on Saturday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma)(Amit Sharma)
Mansa, June 01 (ANI): Voters cast their vote at a polling station for the 7th phase of the Lok Sabha Polls at Moosa Village in Mansa, Punjab on Saturday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma)(Amit Sharma)

First takeaway: Making sense of the Congress' success

The Congress won seven out of 13 seats in the quadrangular contest. The incumbent AAP managed to win only three seats. The Akali Dal could win only one seat, while 10 of its 13 candidates lost their security deposits.

The grand old party's success can be attributed to the following possible factors. First, there was disillusionment amongst the voters against the AAP government. The very fact that the Congress did not have an alliance with the AAP, unlike in other parts of the country, did help the party as anti-incumbency votes apparently went to it. Also, the alliance, even if forced from above, would not have worked in the mutual transfer of a vote due to a great degree of animosity between the state units of the two parties.

Second, what went in favour of the Congress was the repeat of its time-tested strategy of putting up its faction leaders as the party candidates so that there is no internecine undercutting. In comparison, AAP, the main contender, had relatively inexperienced candidates.

Third, the angst amongst farmers, well-organised and mostly belonging to the numerically strong land-holding Jat-Sikh community, against the party in power at the centre did help the Congress as, unlike the Akali Dal, it has consistently extended its support to the agitation.

Fourth, the Congress campaign strongly invoked the message of inter-community fraternity that did endear the party to the electorate. Rahul Gandhi's visits to the Golden Temple and doing community service endeared him to the Sikh masses. The ones who were opposed to the right-wing majoritarian politics of the BJP saw in the Congress a viable alternative.

Fifth, past surveys and electoral results have clearly shown that the party has always received support from the Hindu and Sikh communities belonging to all three regions of the state, and this election was no different.

Second key takeaway: Victory of two separatist independents

A worrying takeaway is the unexpected victories of two independent candidates, Amritpal Singh and Sarabjit Singh Khalsa respectively, from the Khadoor Sahib and Faridkot constituencies with impressive margins.

Both candidates have been identified with the idea of separatism. Their wins are a grim reminder of a segment of the Sikh electorate still harbouring a wounded psyche, a result of decades-old unfulfilled demands and also the unfortunate events that happened in the dark days of militancy. Also, and probably more correctly, their wins can be attributed to people’s growing alienation from the traditional parties.

The youth of Punjab have suffered due to the endemic economic distress, the dismal state of the education sector, and the lack of employment opportunities. The continued prevalence of drugs, illegal and illicit practices, and gangsterism, has all inculcated a sense of hopelessness, making the youth susceptible to radical propaganda. There is also a growing demographic anxiety due to the large-scale immigration of Sikh youth to the greener pastures in the west and an influx of the Hindu migrant working class. Of late they have been settling down in the state.

Third key takeaway: Future of the Akali Dal

The third takeaway is the concern about the future of the Akali Dal, the oldest regional party in India, which has shaped the politics of Punjab since the days of the Gurdwara movement. Its perpetual decline in both organisational and ideological terms, and turning from a cadre-based party to a family party is once again on evidence, in its solitary win, that of Bathinda, the home turf of the Badal family. The decline is a bad omen for state politics as its ability to represent the panthic constituency has diminished, which makes it possible for the radical elements, so far relegated to the fringe since Badal senior, to re-emerge.

The Badal leadership will come under pressure and there is a lurking danger that Akali Dal so far in control of the SGPC and the Akal Takht would be tempted to resort to taking a hardline on the panthic issues to counter the rise of radical Akali factions, as happened in the past.

Fourth key takeaway: The future of the Aam Aadmi Party

The fourth takeaway is the question mark over the AAP in the only state where the party has registered wins in the Lok Sabha elections since its inception in 2012. The party won three seats and got 26. 02 percent of the votes polled compared to the Congress, which polled 26.30 per cent, showing that the party is not down and out, but it is definitely a thumbs down over the Mann government's performance. The party, since its entry into the state in the 2014 elections, has been promising to end mafia-infused loot of the state’s natural resources, corruption, and most importantly the drug menace. Even its promise of replicating its ‘Delhi model’ of rejuvenating the education and health sectors has not been redeemed substantially.

The party sought votes based on its tall populist campaign promises that are bound to remain mostly unfulfilled in a state, which is so heavily indebted. The party campaign, to be fair, got hit due to the party’s top leadership either in jail or facing trial. The rout of the party in all the seats it contested outside Punjab, especially in Delhi, raises further questions over the party’s future. The leadership skills of Bhagwant Mann will be tested in the months to come.

Fifth key takeaway: The state of the BJP in Punjab

The fifth takeaway is the BJP, contesting alone after 27 years, was unable to win even a single seat. It, however, polled 18.4 per cent of the vote, larger than its erstwhile senior ally, the Akali Dal, which managed 13.53 percent of votes polled.

The party in alliance with Akali Dal secured victories in the past: Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur (5 times) and Amritsar (3 times). This time the party was runner-up only in the Gurdaspur constituency. The party, however, also did well to come up second in the urban constituencies of Ludhiana and Jalandhar, which have a significant Hindu presence. In the 2027 elections, the party could remain sanguine about its chances, as the electorates in Punjab have been constantly looking for a viable political alternative. However, to get there, the party has to take corrective measures.

Ashutosh Kumar is professor of Indian Politics at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Views expressed are personal)

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