Punjab’s Lok Sabha results have not always been in sync with national results

According to most opinion polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seems to be trouncing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), especially in most parts of northern and western India. A few States in the south such as Karnataka and Kerala and some States of the north-east, notably Assam, may be the only ones which may bring some cheer for the grand old Congress party. Another State where the Congress may put up a strong performance is Punjab, which sends 13 representatives to the Lok Sabha. The north-western border State may not be numerically strong or a game changer in the context of the election verdict, but it is significant for a number of reasons.

Why the State matters

First, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, along with the Shiv Sena, is one of the earliest constituents of the NDA. It has stood by the BJP through thick and thin. This is an important alliance for the BJP as it bolsters the ‘secular credentials’ of both parties, especially the BJP, at the national level.

Second, the ruling dispensation in the State is facing severe anti-incumbency, not just because of its average performance, but the resentment against senior leaders like Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. While the BJP accuses the Congress of perpetuating dynastic rule, it is interesting to note that there is strong resentment against the Badal clan in Punjab, and even more so against Mr. Majithia, who is especially strong in the Amritsar region and has been accused of being involved in a drug racket.

Third, one of the most important seats in the State is the holy city of Amritsar, which is witnessing an interesting clash between senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley and former Chief Minister and scion of the Patiala royal family, Captain Amarinder Singh. Mr. Jaitley is trying to ride on the ‘Modi wave,’ with the Akali Dal highlighting the fact that he would get an important position if the NDA comes to power. Even Narendra Modi, during his rally on April 25, mentioned that Mr. Jaitley would occupy an important position in an NDA dispensation.

Congress’ popularity

Yet, there are local issues which will ensure that the Amritsar seat is not likely to be a cakewalk for Mr. Jaitley. The popularity of Mr. Singh is still intact, especially in rural areas, and may fetch him a significant chunk of the Jat Sikh vote. The former Chief Minister is also popular in urban areas and is perceived to be a progressive, reform-oriented leader with a clear vision for Punjab. It would be foolish, however, to assume that the importance of Mr. Jaitley within the BJP will not impact any of the voters. In fact, this is his biggest advantage vis-à-vis Mr. Singh who is otherwise a strong candidate.

Punjab is one of the few States where the Congress seems to be more popular in urban areas. In rural areas, the Akali Dal-BJP alliance seems to be ahead because of popular welfare schemes and infrastructural development, according to most surveys, but in urban areas, corruption, tax issues and anti-business policies have increased resentment against the combine.

It would not be surprising if the Congress does well in Punjab and the NDA forms the government at the Centre. Punjab’s Lok Sabha results have not always been in sync with national results. The 1998 and 2009 results are exceptions to the case; the parties in power in the State fared well in the Lok Sabha elections too. One of the reasons for this is that local issues tend to influence results in Punjab. While it is expected that Mr. Modi’s popularity in certain pockets may help the Akali Dal-BJP combine, local issues are not likely to get obliterated by national issues, if one goes by the surveys.

The Lok Sabha tally in Punjab may not impact the results of 2014, yet it is a reminder that the national leadership cannot cover up for the follies of state governments.

(Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based policy analyst. He was earlier with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy.)

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