In the multi-cornered fight in Punjab, AAP faces critical test, Akali Dal fights to regain relevance, and Congress hopes to improve its tally

The ruling AAP and the Congress, both INDIA bloc partners, are fighting against each other in Punjab; former alliance partners BJP and SAD are contesting on all seats separately; the BSP is also for the first time contesting alone on all the seats in the State

Updated - May 27, 2024 09:09 pm IST

Published - May 27, 2024 08:08 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in favour of AAP candidate Gurmeet Singh Khuddian for Lok Sabha elections, in Bathinda, Sunday, May 26, 2024.

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in favour of AAP candidate Gurmeet Singh Khuddian for Lok Sabha elections, in Bathinda, Sunday, May 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

As Punjab heads for the 2024 parliamentary election, it appears embroiled in a four-cornered electoral battle between key political parties, even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which came to power with a thumping majority in the State in 2022, faces a critical test in its popularity and appeal.

The ruling AAP and the Congress, both INDIA bloc partners, are fighting against each other in Punjab. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), alliance partners from 1996 to 2020, when the SAD broke away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, are contesting the election on all seats separately. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is also for the first time contesting alone on all the seats in the State. The Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), led by Simranjit Singh Mann, a known Sikh hardliner, has also fielded its candidates.  

The 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab will go to the polls on June 1 in the last phase of the General Election. In 2019, the parliamentary election was largely a triangular fight between the Congress, the SAD-BJP (as alliance partners), and the AAP, which in 2024 has become a multi-cornered contest. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress won eight seats, securing 41% vote share, while the AAP got one seat (7% vote share), and the BJP (9% of the vote share) and SAD (28% vote share) won two seats each.

The AAP is in power in Punjab and is seeking votes on its performance and policies. The upcoming election will be a critical test to ascertain the two-and-half-year-old AAP government’s popularity in Punjab as it is halfway through its tenure and an anti-incumbency factor can’t be ruled out. The prestige and leadership skills of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who is leading the election campaign, are at stake. The AAP made its mark in Punjab with a thumping majority in the 2022 Assembly election, but the party faced a major setback within months as it lost the parliamentary byelection in Sangrur, hitherto its bastion. However, its win in the Jalandhar parliamentary byelection in 2023 came as a consolation to the party.

As campaigning reaches its last leg, the AAP is attempting to garner people’s sympathy over the arrest of party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as it continues to target the BJP government at the Centre, blaming it for placing democracy and the Constitution in danger. Even as it throws salvos at its opponents, the AAP is facing confrontations on the ground as farmer groups have been questioning AAP leaders on the non-fulfilment of promises, including minimum support prices on crops, which was made during the 2022 Assembly election. Opposition parties have also been cornering the AAP government in the State over various unmet promises and governance failures. Not providing a monthly pension of ₹1,000 to women in Punjab is one of the key promises for which the AAP is facing heat from the Opposition.

The Congress, which is the principal Opposition in Punjab, is focusing on the anti-incumbency factor against the AAP in the State and the BJP at the Centre. The Congress’ backing of the farmers’ agitation on the Delhi border against the now repealed farm sector laws, and the latest agitation on the Punjab-Haryana borders, is a key factor on which the party pins its hopes. The Congress’ manifesto, which promises to waive the debt of farmers and ensure there will be a legal guarantee for minimum support prices (MSP), is another factor based on which it hopes to give a tough fight and surpass its 2019 performance when, under the leadership of then Congress CM Captain (retd.) Amarinder Singh, who later joined the BJP, the party had won eight seats.

The SAD, a century-old regional party, which has been going through a rough patch following electoral drubbings in the 2017 and 2022 Assembly elections, is making desperate efforts to return to the panthic (Sikh) agenda to regain its relevance in State politics. The party in its manifesto has made a panthic and ‘pro-Punjab’ pitch, emphasising a democratic and federal structure with political and fiscal autonomy for the State, giving a twin call for ‘Panthic principles above politics, and Punjab for Punjabis’.

Going solo in the battle, the BJP, which has been facing the farmers’ wrath, is attempting to make inroads into Punjab with an outreach to Sikhs and Scheduled Castes (SCs), and fresh politics of social engineering. SCs account for around 32% of the population, the highest percentage among all States in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week in his rally in Patiala highlighted that the BJP had developed five ‘Panchteerth’ holy sites dedicated to the life of B.R. Ambedkar. In Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is in power, a temple dedicated to Sant Ravidass is being constructed, and in U.P.’s Varanasi, the site of Sant Ravidass’ birthplace is being expanded, Mr. Modi said, clearly indicating the party’s attempt at an SC outreach.

Over the years, the BJP had been contesting the electoral battle in Punjab as a ‘junior partner’ in its alliance with the SAD, but after the SAD quit the alliance, the BJP has been aggressively busy with the party’s expansion in the State. During the alliance period with the SAD, the BJP contested three Lok Sabha seats — Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, and Gurdaspur — while the remaining 10 seats were with the Akali Dal. After the alliance with the SAD broke up, the BJP inducted several Sikhs into the party, including Capt. (retd.) Amarinder Singh, and former Congress leader Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, in an attempt to build its pro-Sikh image. While in alliance with the SAD, the BJP’s electoral base had largely been urban Punjab. Now, it’s attempting to reach out to rural areas, especially to the farming Jat Sikhs, who traditionally supported the Congress, and lately the AAP, which came to power in the previous Assembly election. The BJP has been persuasively conveying the message, through its public rallies and other platforms, on several decisions taken in the interest of Sikhs since 2014, when it formed the government at the Centre.

The BSP, which has witnessed a gradual decrease in its vote share over the years in Punjab’s political space, is focusing on Dalits as a political plank by raising the issues faced by Scheduled Castes to garner support.

The key candidates for in the ongoing parliamentary election include Congress party State president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring from the Ludhiana Lok Sabha constituency, who will be facing the BJP’s Ravneet Singh Bittu, a former Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP from Ludhiana and the grandson of the late Chief Minister Beant Singh.

Congress MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa is contesting from the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, which is currently represented by the Bollywood actor Sunny Deol of the BJP. The party has dropped Mr. Deol and fielded three-time MLA Dinesh Singh Babbu instead this time. The AAP has fielded Amansher Singh Kalsi.

The AAP’s lone Lok Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Rinku, who left the party and joined the BJP, is the latter party’s candidate from Jalandhar. Former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has been fielded by the Congress in Jalandhar. The AAP has fielded former MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu, while Mohinder Singh Kaypee is the SAD’s candidate here.

In Bathinda, the BJP has fielded former 2011 batch IAS officer Parampal Kaur Sidhu. Bathinda is currently represented by SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of former Deputy CM and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal. AAP Minister Gurmeet Singh Khuddian is also in the fray here. 

In Patiala, Dharamvir Gandhi is the Congress’ candidate, whereas the BJP has fielded Preneet Kaur, the former Congress leader and MP as its candidate. Ms. Kaur, a four-time MP and a former Union Minister, is the wife of Capt. (retd.) Amarinder Singh. The AAP has fielded Punjab’s Health Minister Balbir Singh as its candidate from Patiala, while the SAD has fielded N.K. Sharma, a former MLA. 

In Amritsar, the AAP has fielded State Cabinet Minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal against Gurjeet Aujla of the Congress. The BJP’s Taranjit Singh Sandhu, a former diplomat, is also in the fray, as is the SAD’s Anil Joshi. 

In Sangrur, State Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer is the AAP candidate while the Congress has fielded Sukhpal Singh Khaira.

In Punjab, 2,14,61,739 voters will decide the electoral fate of candidates of 13 Lok Sabha seats in the keenly watched contest.

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