Neither Modi nor I.N.D.I.A wave; why Punjab is witnessing a four-way contest in LS Polls 2024? Explained

Candidates of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and BJP are face to face in all the 13 parliamentary constituencies of Punjab for the Lok Sabha Elections 2024.

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Written By Rakesh Behal

This time in Punjab, bordering the India-Pakistan border, no political party has any alliance with any other party for the Lok Sabha elections 2024. Candidates of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and BJP are face to face in all the 13 parliamentary constituencies of the state. Congress-AAP candidates are in the main contest for every Lok Sabha seat in the state. At some seats BJP, and at some places SAD candidates are making the fight triangular.

For the first time in Punjab, the BJP is contesting elections on all the seats on its own. By doing do, the saffron party is slicing the Congress vote bank even further. Except for the seats dominated by urban voters, the votes received by BJP candidates elsewhere will decide whether AAP or Congress will win there. If the BJP gets more votes then Congress will suffer a loss.

The I.N.D.I.A alliance is opposing the BJP. Congress and AAP are together in alliance. Both the parties, which are contesting elections together in Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, and Chandigarh, are facing each other in Punjab due to their local leadership. Because of this, opponents are raising questions about the intentions of both.

This election is a difficult battle for Shiromani Akali Dal. The performance of Sukhbir Badal's candidates will depend on how many of those who had supported Akali Dal before the 2017 and 2022 assembly elections, had moved towards AAP. It will also point out whether people have become disillusioned with the Bhagwant Mann government and have started to support SAD again. 

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress won 8 out of 13 seats in Punjab, BJP-Akali Dal won 2 each and Aam Aadmi Party won one seat. At that time, there was a Congress government in the state under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh, whereas now there is an AAP government which is headed by CM Bhagwant Mann.

Reputation of big political families at stake

This time's Lok Sabha elections are special in another sense. This time the family politics of all the big political families of Punjab is at stake. In the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections, members of the Badal family, Captain family, Dhindsa family, Sidhu family, and Kairon family lost badly in the AAP storm.

Now, Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Badal family is contesting from Bathinda, and Preneet Kaur from the Captain family is contesting from Patiala Lok Sabha's seat. The results of the Lok Sabha elections will decide the future course of politics of both families.

After snatching the post of Punjab Congress President, Navjot Sidhu was seen on the ground for some time, but after the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, he is completely missing from the scene. Along with getting his wife Navjot Kaur treated for cancer, Sidhu is currently commentating on IPL matches on a private channel.

Apart from these, the role of Majithia family, especially Bikram Singh Majithia, also seems to be limited in this election. Majithia, who is famous for his different speech style, is limited to only a few areas instead of holding rallies and meetings across the state.

Akali-BJP parted ways after differences over farming laws

In Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal signed the 'Moga Declaration' in 1996 and contested elections for the first time in 1997 in alliance with the BJP. This alliance broke on 18 September 2020 when Harsimrat Kaur Badal, daughter-in-law of the Badal family, resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest against the 3 farm laws of the Modi government.

After that, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal announced his separation from BJP.

Aam Aadmi Party: Government's litmus test, faces crisis

The Lok Sabha elections are like a litmus test for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, which came to power in Punjab with a bumper majority on the slogan of change. Bhagwant Mann has completed two and a half years as CM. He claims to reduce people's electricity bills to zero, provide government jobs, improve health facilities through mohalla clinics, and crack down on corruption.

Apart from raising the issue of law and order and political vendetta, opposition parties have been calling Bhagwant Mann a pawn of Delhi Darbar. The promise of giving Rs 1500 per month to the women of the state is incomplete. The government's performance is being affected due to the conflict with Raj Bhavan.

How much of a crisis does AAP face in Punjab? These came out openly in the Lok Sabha elections. Apart from fielding ministers on 5 seats, leaders had to be imported from Congress to contest elections in Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, and Fatehgarh Sahib.

With two weeks to go to polls in Sangrur, Amritsar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur, the position of AAP candidates looks relatively weak.

Congress: Bet on big faces, litmus test for new leadership

Captain Amarinder Singh, Sunil Jakhar Preneet Kaur, etc., who were called the face of Congress in Punjab, are not with the party today. Navjot Sidhu is also on the sideline. The command of the party is with Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and till now the high command has openly expressed confidence in his leadership. If the party's performance in the Lok Sabha elections is not as per the expectations, then the problems of war within the Punjab Congress will increase.

Congress gave tickets to big faces like Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Charanjit Singh Channi, Sukhjinder Randhawa, Sukhpal Khaira, Vijay Inder Singla. With this move, the party managed to convey the message to its cadre and workers as well as the common people that it is very serious about the elections.

Due to its candidates in Hoshiarpur, Faridkot, Bathinda, and Ferozepur, the party seems to be a little behind. The factionalism among leaders may prove costly on many seats including Ludhiana.

BJP: Ram temple is the biggest support, farmers' resentment is huge

BJP, which is contesting elections for the first time on all 13 seats of Punjab, has its biggest hope from Ram Temple. Party strategists believe that this will prove to be the Bramhastra to win over the approximately 38% Hindu population of the state. There is also hope for the Modi factor in urban areas.

BJP leaders claim that no government or leader of any party has ever done as much for the Sikhs as PM Narendra Modi did. These include opening of Kartarpur Corridor, removing names of 312 out of 314 Sikhs included in the blacklist, making langar tax-free, and developing Sultanpur Lodhi as a heritage city, apart from a historical program on the 350th Prakash Parv of Dashampita Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Furthermore- the issuance of postage stamps and commemorative coins. Apart from renovating Jallianwala Bagh, on the Prakash Parv of Guru Gobind Singh Ji on 9 January 2022, Modi himself announced to celebrate the 'Veer Bal Diwas' on 26 December in memory of the martyrdom of Chhote Sahibzadas.

Till 2019, the BJP used to contest elections on only 3 seats in alliance with Akali Dal. These include Amritsar, Gurdaspur, and Hoshiarpur. Of these, the BJP won in Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur in 2019. This time the party has fielded all 13 seats instead of 3.

There are many challenges before the party in Punjab. BJP with strong organization and cadre has nothing in the name of cadre on most of the seats. To give tickets on almost 10 seats out of 13, leaders had to be imported from other parties. The resentment in the rural belt of the state due to the farmers' movement seems to be weighing heavily on the party. Its pressure is visible to the state leadership.

Akali Dal: Long fight left to regain lost ground

Talking about Shiromani Akali Dal, the only regional party of the state in the electoral fray, this is the first election in Punjab after the death of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Being the chief, Sukhbir Badal is trying to bring together the old leaders of the party. He was successful in reuniting the Dhindsa family and the Brahmpura family with Akali Dal, but a lot still remains to be done to revive the party.

Sukhbir Badal & Co. will have to work hard to convert the anger among the people of the state due to the methods of the AAP government into votes in favor of the Akali Dal. This work can be done only by reuniting the party's depleted cadre and re-energizing the dejected workers.

Sukhbir Badal's wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is carrying out the Punjab Bachao Yatra across the state, faces the challenge of saving the family stronghold. The party could have fielded strong faces in Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Patiala and Khadur Sahib seats. Had the Dhindsa family got a ticket in Sangrur, the situation could have been different.

Congress-CPI alliance broke 17 years ago

In Punjab, till the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (CPI) continued to contest elections together. In 2004, Akali-BJP alliance candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal defeated Congress-CPI joint candidate Kushal Bhora from the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat. After that the alliance of both the parties broke.

The reason for the alliance of Congress and CPI in Punjab was the big CPI leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet who belonged to Punjab. Comrade Surjit was the General Secretary of CPI from 1992 to 2005. After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, his health started deteriorating and he died in 2008. However, Congress started contesting elections alone in the state from the Punjab Assembly elections held in 2007.