With the massive victory of Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi assembly polls, the alarm bells have rung up in Punjab. The AAP cadres in Punjab are in upbeat mood and they are now gearing for the 2022 Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections. They will pose challenge to the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal in the next Vidhan Sabha elections in Punjab.
The AAP in Punjab at present has the status of principal opposition party with 20 legislators while the Shiromani Akali Dal which ruled the state in alliance with the BJP for ten years from 2007 to 2017 is in third position with 15 members. This was the worst defeat of the Akali Dal – the oldest regional party with 100 years standing in its history.
Although the AAP does not have a strong base in Punjab, yet the leaders and cadres are confident of putting up a better performance and pose a serious challenge to the two major political parties of Punjab.
The Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal have been ruling the border state of Punjab alternatively except in 2007 to 2017 when the SAD-BJP alliance coalition got two consecutive terms. The Congress bounced back in 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections with 77 seats and the tally of the Congress stands at 80 with Captain Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister for the second time.
The AAP leadership has planned to adopt the Delhi model of taking up the problems of the common man like water supply, mohalla clinics and improvement in school education.
Bhagwant Mann, President of the Punjab unit of the AAP has claimed that it is turn of AAP now to rule in Punjab in 2022. However, the AAP is badly divided and suffered the losses in 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections due to this reason. Many leaders like Sukhpal Singh Khaira, HS Phoolka have left the party alongwith some other leaders.
The AAP got a windfall in 2014 Lok Sabha elections when its four members were elected to the Lok Sabha. But soon there were differences in the party and two members of 2014 Lok Sabha namely Dr. Dharam Vir Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa were suspended by the party high command and they remained suspended till 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The AAP initially received big response from the NRIs of Punjab, plane loads of NRI supporters had come to Punjab to support the AAP candidates in 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls. But again differences among the leaders cropped up and the NRIs were disappointed and they went back.
In 2019 Lok Sabha election only Bhagwant Mann could retain the Sangrur Lok Sabha Seat and all other AAP candidates lost. It is too early to predict how many seats AAP would win in 2022 Vidhan Sabha election but they are very much excited.
The Punjab Congress which is now ruling the Punjab state is faced with a huge task of reorganizing the cadres for the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election. Sonia Gandhi, interim president of the Congress has dissolved all the district units and the state committee of the PPCC owing to the differences among the party leaders.
Only Sunil Jakhar, President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee has been retained. The Congress faces a huge task of preparing the organization for the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections as the differences among the senior leaders continue to prevail and with two years left for the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election, the Congress will have to work very hard.
Although Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has not faced any serious challenge to his leadership so far, but the task before him ii uphill. There is deterioration in the law and order situation and the drug menace has not been curbed despite efforts by him.
The Special Task Force (STF) setup under the officer of the rank of ADGP HS Sidhu has been working very hard to curb this menace, but the drug trafficking network has spread so wide that it has become difficult to have complete control over this menace. The STF has arrested more than 11000 persons in connection with drug trafficking, yet the number is estimated to be around 44,000 according to Chief Minister himself.
There is a big rise in the number of gangsters in Punjab and they are posing a serious challenge to the police administration. Extortions and snatchings are taking place on a large scale. The Punjab State is also witnessing the subdued activities of the radicals who make target killings.
The youth in Punjab is imigrating to overseas countries in search of greener pastures and they are becoming the fast victims of the unscrupulous travel agents. The farming sector also continues to be in distress despite loan waivers given by the Congress government.
The Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will have to speed up the relief measures, take action against the anti-social elements and ensure safety and security of the people of Punjab.
The Congress High Command which is not in existence, will have to think about Punjab seriously to revamp the Punjab Congress cadres.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, the other claimant of power in Punjab is also in shambles. The 100 years old regional party of the country is faced with revolt by the senior leaders who have resigned from the party as a protest against the leadership of Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Some of the senior leaders namely Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Sewa Singh Sekhwan who have served the Akali Dal on many important posts have separated from the mainstream Akali Dal and formed a separate Akali Dal (Taksali).
Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa who was the first to revolt has now joined hands with the Taksali Akalis and they are trying to mobilize the workers and some disgruntled leaders. Dr. Rattan Singh Ajnala former MP and his son Amarpal Bony former MLA who had also resigned from the Akali Dal alongwith Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and Sewa Singh Sekhwan, have gone back to the SAD on persuasion of Parkash Singh Badal.
Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh has started a campaign of organizing the protest rallies against the Congress government in Punjab had to bring Parkash Singh Badal to the stages to attract the crowd and the party workers. Parkash Singh Badal had almost taken ‘sanyas’ for the past one year and was not active because of his old age. However, Sukhbir’s leadership failed to imbibe confidence among the workers and the senior Badal has come to the rescue of his son despite his falling health.
Parkash Singh Badal who has been having very cordial relations with the BJP for the past twenty years, has for first time attacked the BJP. While addressing a rally at Rajasansi, Parkash Singh Badal expressed his concern over the hate campaign in the country and said such type of campaign should be shunned.
He said that Akali Dal was a secular and socialist setup and minorities must be given full protection. The Akali Dal supported the CAA in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, but sought amendment in the act seeking the inclusion of the Muslims.
Punjab has been having SAD-BJP coalition government since 1997 and for the first time, BJP is showing eyes to the Akali Dal and has declared that BJP would act as big brother in the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election.
So far, the BJP has been having a second status in the coalition and Akali Dal had given it 23 seats out of 117 seats of Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Madan Mohan Mittal, a senior BJP leader and former minister told this writer they would contest 59 seats in 2020. The Akali Dal would not agree to this proposal.
The rival factions of the Akali Dal have their aim to snatch the control of the SGPC from the mainstream Akali Dal which is led by Sukhbir Singh Badal. They have urged the Union Home Minister to organize the general election of the SGPC which are due since 2016. The elections to the SGPC are conducted by the Home Ministry under the Gurdwara Act of 1925. Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has already met Amit Shah in this connection. The rival factions want the SGPC poll before the Vidhan Sabha elections in 2022.
Navjot Singh Sidhu former cabinet minister and Congress MLA has been watching the scene since his resignation from the Punjab Cabinet following differences with Amarinder Singh. The fringe Akali groups and other parties are trying to woo Sidhu. The AAP also plans to meet Navjot Sidhu while Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has stated that Taksalis would also contact him.
Navjot Singh Sidhu is a good campaigner and has a clean image and all the political parties would like to have him. Even senior Congress leaders opposed to Amarinder Singh want him to be active in the Congress party in Punjab. Sidhu was listed as a star campaigner for Delhi Vidhan Sabha election, but he did not take part and only Amarinder Singh addressed few meetings in Delhi.
The political scene in Punjab will witness fast change in the near future.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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