Ludhiana, March 8: For the first time in the history of Punjab, the state is seeing a three-way battle for its Legislative Assembly. The state of five (reduced to three rivers after 1947) rivers, has seen a third front rising in the past few years. The Parkash Singh Badal-ruled state has so far seen a battle between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. But in Punjab Assembly Elections 2017, the dynamics have changed with the Arvind-Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party entering the scene.

The AAP made its way into the politics of Punjab in 2014 and how. The party, riding on the popularity of comedian Bhagwant Mann and raising the 1984 riots pitch through lawyer HS Phoolka, made its mark as it grabbed four out of 11 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Kejriwal grabbed the opportunity well and has made his party camp in the state since then. The party is fighting this year’s Assembly elections with the pitch of freeing Punjab from drugs even as Lokpal, justice for 1984 victims also figure in its manifesto.

On the other hand, the Congress is hoping for a comeback in the state. It is being said that the Congress may be giving a tough fight to both the AAP as well as the SAD with the return of Captain Amarinder Singh in the political scene and also with former BJP leaders Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu joining the party.

The rise of the two parties is being attributed to the anti-SAD sentiment across the state as poll observers say that the people of Punjab are looking for an alternative. There is also a massive anti-incumbency challenge that’s staring at the Badal government in Punjab. Whether this is for real has been sealed on February 4 and will be out in the open on March 11.

The history of Punjab

The Indian state of Punjab came into being in 1966 with the efforts of the Punjabi suba movement. On linguistic lines, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were separated from Punjab. But that was just the beginning of a struggle that Punjab has seen. From tumultuous politics to terrorism, from insurgency to riots, Punjab has seen a lot till the 1980s. In the early 1980s, Punjab saw the rise of insurgency and violence gripped the entire state. In 1984, the Operation Blue Star happened. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched a terrorist-combing operation at the Golden Temple, but the move did not go down well with the Sikh community. Close on the heels of Operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her body-guards and this led to anti-Sikh riots. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 continue to hold significance every time elections are held in Punjab. The cases continue to run in courts.

The state of Punjab is divided into three regions – the Malwa region, the Majha region and the Doaba region. The Majha region, called the heartland of Punjab, is the one between the Ravi and Beas . It consists of the districts of Amritsar, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran. The Doaba region lies between the rivers Beas and Sutlej. Doaba is a Punjabi word that means the land between two rivers. Considered to be one of the most fertile regions, it is one of the largest per capita producers of wheat in the world. The region consists of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar(Nawanshahr) and, Kapurthala . Malwa is the southern region of Punjab along the river Sutlej. It consists of 11 districts including Ludhiana, Patiala, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Bathinda, Barnala, Sangrur, Moga, Rupnagar, Ferozepur, Fazilka and Mansa.

Punjab Assembly Elections 1992: The Sikh boycott

During the 1992 elections, Punjab was seeing turbulent times. The state was under the central government and, therefore, the Sikhs boycotted the elections saying the state was under heavy military presence. With the boycott of the elections by the SAD and Sikh militant groups, a meager 23.82 per cent voting was recorded and the Congress won literally unopposed.

PartySeats contestedSeats won Vote share (%)
Shiromani Akali Dal5835.20
Bharatiya Janata Party66616.48
Congress1168743.83
BSP105916.32
Others11712 

The Congress won on a whopping 87 seats. Among the other parties, the SAD won three seats, the BSP won nine while the BJP won 6 seats in 1992. From here began another turbulent rule of Beant Singh who became the Chief Minister.

Image Credit (sikharchives.com)

Image Credit (sikharchives.com)

However, Singh was assassinated in 1995 and yet another turbulent period began in Punjab. In the remaining two years of Congress rule in the state, Harcharan Singh Brar and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal served as the chief minister.

Punjab Assembly Elections 1997: Bringing normalcy

After a long turbulent period, the focus of elections in 1997 was bringing normalcy to Punjab. The SAD saw that it was time to promote unity in Punjab and make the state inclusive across religions and beliefs. During the campaign for 1997, the Congress claimed credit for bringing normalcy in Punjab. The party also tried to garner sympathy votes for former chief minister Beant Singh’s assassination. On the other hand, the Badals focused more on the police brutality on the civilians and the alleged killings of the young Sikhs in the name of controlling terrorism in the state. The plight of the farmers was also highlighted by the SAD.  While all these issues remained, the biggest one came out to be alleged corruption by the Congress government.

The Badal-led party campaigned for a peaceful, united and corruption-free Punjab, and plucked the Congress out of the state in 1997. This election also saw the BJP come up as an ally of the SAD in forming the government in the state sending out a message that the Akali Dal had moved to a broader vision than just fighting for the Sikh identity.

PartySeats contestedSeats won Vote share (%)
Shiromani Akali Dal927537.64
Bharatiya Janata Party22188.33
Congress1051426.38
Others1179 

 

The Congress that had won 87 seats in the 1992 election, was reduced to a meagre 14 seats while the Akali Dal won 75 of the 90 seats it contested. The BJP won 18 of the 22 seats it fought. The Akali Dal said after coming to power that the victory was an indication that people were fed up of the Congress. Parkash Singh Badal took over as the Chief Minister of Punjab.

Punjab Assembly Elections 2002: SAD’s corruption and the rise of Prince of Patiala

When campaigning for the 2002 elections began, the Badal clan was delving deep in corruption allegations. The state of Punjab had growing debts and the exchequer was facing losses. The voters from the 2002 elections tell stories of financial mess in Punjab. However, the Parkash Singh Badal government continued to announce freebies and played the populism plank. On the other hand, this period saw the rise of Prince of Patiala Captain Amarinder Singh, who made his way to the top ranks of the Congress. Captain Singh in his poll pitch promised to expose the ‘corruption’ by the Badals and also played the Sikh identity card. The Sutlej-Yamuna canal link was also raked up as a major issue during these elections by both the Congress as well as the SAD. The SAD also tried to rake up the 1984 anti-Sikh riots issue asking people to vote against the Congress.

PartySeats contestedSeats won Vote share (%)
Shiromani Akali Dal924131.08
Bharatiya Janata Party2335.67
Congress1056235.81
Others11711 

 

The people of Punjab eventually voted against the corruption of the SAD and for Captain Singh as the Congress-CPI combine came to power in 2002, the election that saw a 65 per cent voter turnout. While the Congress won 62 seats, the CPI won two seats and the combine attained majority in the 117-seat state.

Capt Amarinder Singh

Capt Amarinder Singh

The SAD was reduced to 41 seats while the BJP to three seats. Captain Amarinder Singh took over as the Chief Minister as the Congress came to power for the first time after insurgency and turbulence in Punjab.

Punjab Assembly Elections 2007: A close battle

The year 2007 saw a closely fought battle between the Congress and the SAD. The state that had not seen an incumbent government yet again voted for anti-incumbency. While developmental issues took precedence, one could not call this election a one-sided battle. This was also the first time that the party that lost the elections fared better in Malwa region. It has been believed that the party that dominates this region goes on to win the Punjab elections. However, that was not the case in 2007. The Congress won 37 out of 65 seats in this region that year.

PartySeats contestedSeats won Vote share (%)
Shiromani Akali Dal934837.09
Bharatiya Janata Party23198.28
Congress1164440.90
Others1175 

 

But the elections that saw a 76 per cent voter turnout overall were won by the SAD-BJP alliance. The alliance won a total of 67 seats in 2007 while the Congress won 44.

What went against the Congress was the Captain government caught on high corruption charges. The Ludhiana City Centre case was highlighted by the SAD along with the SYL canal and 1984 anti-Sikh rights issues. The Badals also announced free electricity to farmers.  While the SAD managed to win and announced free electricity to farmers immediately, a case of corruption was registered against Captain Singh and other senior leaders of the Congress.

Punjab Assembly Elections 2012: The rise of Sukhbir Singh Badal

The 2012 elections saw the rise of Parkash Singh Badal’s son Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was given the task of leading the campaign for 2012. Sukhbir Badal had the responsibility to bring incumbency to the state that had been anti-incumbent so far. However, this changed in 2012 and for the first time, the state saw a ruling government retain power. While Sukhbir Badal’s prowess contributed to the success of SAD, the allegations of corruption against the Congress at the Centre and infighting within the party in Punjab ruined its chances in the state. The SAD-BJP combine saw a massive win and Parkash Singh Badal remained the Chief Minister while Sukhbir took over as the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab.

PartySeats contestedSeats won Vote share (%)
Shiromani Akali Dal945634.73
Bharatiya Janata Party23127.18
Congress1174640.09
Others1173 

 

The 2012 election also saw the rise of Manpreet Badal, the nephew of Parkash Singh Badal. Manpreet broke away from the SAD and formed a new party. He was also projected as Mr Clean in Punjab and many saw the election as a three-cornered one even as that did not translate into numbers. This in fact helped Parkash Singh Badal get power again.

Punjab's deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal

Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal

Another significant fact about the 2012 Punjab Assembly elections was how the poll pundits and the exit polls were proven wrong. Many say that the outcome of 2012 even left the Badals surprised Badals as they had assumed loss of Government as was predicted by various political pundits and surveys.

From 2012 till now: Desecration, drugs and more

A lot has changed from 2012 till now. Manpreet Badal dismantled his party and joined the Congress. Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu quit the BJP alleging corruption in the SAD government. Since then speculations about Sidhu’s next move followed one after the other. There were indications that Sidhu may be joining the AAP. However, it seems the talks with Kejriwal’s party didn’t go as expected. Earlier last year Sidhu launched his own party called Awaaz-e-Punjab. But that didn’t last too long. Earlier this year, Sidhu dissolved his party and went on to join the Congress, fighting the elections from the Amritsar East seat.

In 2015, Punjab was on the boil when a series of incidents of the desecration of the holy book Guru Granth Sahib came to the fore. The first incident of desecration was reported on October 12, 2015 from Faridkot, where 110 torn pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found. Thereafter, between October 13 and 16, many more such incidents of desecration were reported from various places including Ferozepur and Tarn Taran in Punjab. Violent protests followed this series of desecration and this went on to become a serious election issue this year. While some arrests were made in certain cases, the issue continues to hold prominence among the Sikhs.

The SYL canal issue was also brought back this election. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal says that Punjab cannot share the Sutlej water with any other state. He says that the water belongs to the territory of Punjab and will be used for the state. The Supreme Court has, however, said that it was unconstitutional for the Punjab state government to terminate a water sharing agreement with other states. Punjab shares water with Haryana. However, the Badal government is against the water sharing and continues to fight elections saying the water belongs to Punjab. There have been protests in the recent past over the issue both in Haryana as well as Punjab.

The issue of drugs has been on top of the campaign for Punjab this election. While Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi tried to rake up the issue last election too, it was laughed off by the SAD-BJP government. However, that is not the case now with both the AAP and the Congress highlighting the issue. The release of the film Udta Punjab, based on the drugs menace in Punjab, was also stalled and countered by the Badal government, bringing to fore how grave the drug menace in the state was.

Meanwhile, the Badals claim development in Punjab citing smooth and strong roads, good hospitals, diagnostic testing facilities, free cycles to girls, the Shagun scheme to deserving girls and more. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots also remains an election issue. The SAD has also tried to downplay the AAP alleging the party is funded by Khalistanis. The party also raked up the issue of alleged ‘drinking habits’ of AAP MP Bhagwant Mann.

Parkash Singh Badal is likely to continue as the Chief Minister if the SAD wins this election. The Congress has made it clear that Captain Amarinder Singh will take charge as the CM if the party comes to power. However, the AAP has kept its cards close to its chest.  The poll observers say it is a close call between AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, who is the party’s Dalit face, and senior lawyer HS Phoolka, who continues his fight for the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Bhagwant Mann (image source: FB/BhagwantMann)

Bhagwant Mann (image source: FB/BhagwantMann)

Over 1.98 crore voters sealed the fate of 1145 candidates for 117 seats in Punjab on February 4. These included more than 6 lakh first-time voters. The state recorded a 78.6 per cent voter turnout, similar to what was seen last election. What stood out was the fact that women voters outnumbered male voters. While there were 78.14 per cent female voters, the male voter turnout was 76.69 per cent. Out of the 1,98,78,654 registered voters in Punjab, there were 1,05,03,108 male and 93,75,546 females. The Malwa region, which is looked at as the deciding factor in Punjab polls, has recorded a considerably high voter turnout above 70 per cent. How these numbers have translated will be clear on March 11 as results pour out.

Meanwhile, if poll pundits are to be believed, it may be a historical election with a close contest between the Congress and the AAP. However, the previous election is proof that the loyal voter of Punjab can overturn all predictions. If the loyal voter comes into play this election too, it could well be a hat-trick for the SAD-BJP.