How did Hindus and Sikhs vote in Punjab?

Devotees arrive to pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Devotees arrive to pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. | Photo Credit: NARINDER NANU

The unprecedented victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the recent election in Punjab has turned the tables on established parties and conventional politics. It broke many conventions and myths of voting behaviour, especially the one on the religious basis in the case of Punjab.

Lokniti’s post-poll survey data shows that AAP garnered close to half the Sikh votes. Both the traditional parties in the State saw substantial decline in their support among this group (Table 1). The AAP not only swept the Sikh votes but also made gains among the Hindus. The Congress, on the other hand, saw a decline of about 20 percentage points in its vote share among Hindus since the last Assembly election. BJP+ could not garner the support of the Hindus to the extent it would have liked, with only one-sixth of the Hindus voting for the party.

Vote share of the AAP among the Hindu voters was the highest in Majha region (39%) closely followed by Malwa (37%), which also happens to be the biggest region of the State. On the other hand, the Congress succeeded in getting one-third of the Hindu votes in Majha region followed by three of every 10 in Doaba and only two of every 10 in Malwa.

AAP led its opponents among all types of Sikhs — Amritdhari, Keshdhari and Sahajdaris. However, its best performance in terms of vote was among Sahajdhari Sikhs. Its performance was less impressive among the Amritdharis (gap of 10 percentage points).

Issue of sacrilege

The sacrilege incident which took place in 2015 during the Akali-BJP rule in Punjab remained an important issue for the Sikhs in this election as well. For a near four-fifths of the Sikh voters and three-fifth of Hindu voters, it was a very important voting issue (Table 2). The data highlights the Sikhs’ sentiment towards the Congress government on their failure to protect the honour of the Sikh faith was similar to what it was for the Akalis in the 2017 election. At both times, over half the Sikh voters stated that the SAD and the Congress had failed to protect and uphold the Sikh faith.

Sikh voters found resonance in a new party with a hope that it will protect the honour of the Sikh faith. AAP benefited from this and had a greater lead among those Sikhs for whom the sacrilege issues were very or somewhat important. Most Sikhs saw AAP as the best party for protecting the interests of their religion (40%). However, when it came to Hindus, there was a close contest between AAP (28%) and the Congress (26%) (Table 3).

Not keen on a Sikh CM

The data also suggest that not only Hindus (80%) but seven out of 10 Sikhs were also against the proposition that only a Sikh should be the Chief Minister of Punjab. It is also worth mentioning that voters in the State did not attach much importance to the candidate’s religion and over six in 10 Sikh and Hindu voters said that they did not consider the candidate’s religion to be an important factor while voting.

It was clearly the anger against the traditional parties which had failed to live up to the expectations of the people in delivering their promises. The AAP’s “model of governance” resonated with both the Hindu and the Sikh voters in Punjab. Now one would watch the delivery of that governance model!

Jagrup Singh Sekhon is a former Professor of Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab & Vibha Attri is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi

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Printable version | Mar 13, 2022 5:21:46 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/punjab-assembly/how-did-hindus-and-sikhs-vote-in-punjab/article65217608.ece