Punjab Pointers

Punjab Pointers

The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine is caught in a political quagmire as the 117-member State Assembly witnesses elections soon. 

The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine is caught in a political quagmire as the 117-member State Assembly witnesses elections soon.

The entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into the Punjab electoral arena turned the pollscape uncertain. The State is poised to witness a triangular contest with Congress and AAP vying for the anti-incumbency vote.

The AAP created enough stir to make the contest a triangular one, thus turning it unpredictable for the poll pundits to speculate.

In fact, the Congress was pinning massive hopes on this State as the Badals are facing deep erosion in mass support they enjoyed till now.

The AAP phenomenon has to end up as a damp squib for the Congress to gain. But, Dalit and OBC voters seem to be swinging towards AAP, thus dwindling the fortunes of Congress which traditionally rallied these sections.

Despite ruling NDA’s vulnerabilities, the SAD-BJP combine still retains many positives. The BJP still enjoys support in some sections of urban Punjab. Akalis historically enjoyed the support of Jat-Sikhs. The trend still continues much to the chagrin of Congress.

Akali Dal is not just a political party. It fervently represents the Sikh identity politics. The historical legacy of social movement embedded in the anti-colonial struggle gave Akalis a special place in the hearts of Sikhs, especially, the peasantry.

But, the permutations and combinations within the Sikh political identity and numerous dissensions made Akalis vulnerable. Besides, lawlessness under its regime and the criminal-politician nexus perpetuated by it made the ruling coalition hugely unpopular.

The SAD-BJP coalition ruling the state for a decade is thus facing inevitable displeasure from the electorate. But, the BJP cannot divorce its NDA partner. No other electoral alliance is possible as Congress and AAP equally pitch for a space in case the fate of Akali-BJP combine reverses.

Punjab politics are dovetailed with drug trade. Drug addiction in Punjab has reached menacing proportions due to the politician-drug trader nexus. The drug menace superimposed by agrarian distress and rampant unemployment has made the politics murkier.

The AAP is trying to penetrate into Punjab electoral arena by focusing on ‘Udta Punjab’ (drug-induced plight of Punjab) the political freshness it brings is refreshingly contrary to its rivals caught in promoting drug trade. But, the internal contradictions can act as a spoiler for the broom.

Though AAP’s foray breathed fresh air in otherwise rotten politics of Punjab, whether it would emerge as a third alternative still remains a speculation.

Thus, the three-way electoral battle is unpredictable due to the interplay of several factors like the Sikh-identity politics, the historical support bases of different parties, the drug-crime-politics nexus, fragmentation and disintegration and the internal contradictions in the political system.

The internal cleavages among various social groups, the dialectic of competing identities in Punjab politics, the distinctive regionalisation of politics, the expectations on diasporic engagement in elections etc., make the exploration of unfolding Punjab electoral scenario much hazier.

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