Punjab will go to the Lok Sabha polls in the seventh phase – the last phase of the election schedule for 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The political parties have now started gearing up for the final countdown. The polling in Punjab will be held on May 19 and the result of the polling will be declared on May 23.
The political scene in Punjab is not yet clear as the major political parties like the Congress and the Shiromini Akali Dal have not yet announced their final official candidates for the thirteen Lok Sabha seats of Punjab. The Shiromini Akali Dal which was decimated in 2017 vidhan sabha election is finding it difficult to get suitable candidates. The Shiromini Akali Dal could secure only 15 seats in the vidhan sabha election, was placed at third position after the Aam Aadmi Party got 22 seats and became the main opposition party in the vidhan sabha.
The Shiromini Akali Dal which ruled for ten years in continuation in alliance with the BJP, received the biggest political setback of the life in the vidhan sabha elections of 2017 due to its own doings. The SAD which claims to represent the Sikhs, lost their confidence because of the incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib which took place in Moga and Faridkot districts and the police firing at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura where the protests were held against the incidents of sacrilege. The Punjab police have arrested a number of followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda of Gurmeet Ram Rahim who is now undergoing imprisonment in the rape cases and murder. The incidents of sacrilege had taken place in October 2015 and the followers of Baba Ram Rahim were allegedly behind the same. Since the Shiromini Akali Dal had sought the support of the Dera Sacha Sauda in the lok sabha and vidhan sabha elections, there was strong resentment among the Sikhs against the Akali Dal and its leaders particularly Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal who were at the helm of affairs in Punjab. The hard line Sikhs launched morcha known as Bargari Panthic Morcha against the Akali Dal and the followers of Ram Rahim at Bargari which continued for 193 days after the formation of the Congress government under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh. Amarinder Singh government appointed Justice (retired) Ranjit Commission to probe the incidents of sacrilege and the police firing. The government also setup a special investigation team (SIT) after the receipt of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report. The SIT has been probing the matter for the past four months and questioned a number of senior police officers including the former DGP of Punjab police Sumedh Singh Saini. The SIT also questioned former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal who was Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and held the portfolio of Home. The SIT has arrested two senior IPS officers namely Charanjit Sharma former SSP, Moga and Paramraj Singh Umranangal, IG rank officer in connection with the police firing incidents. The SIT is still continuing the investigations. Because of these incidents, the Akali Dal has lost its credibility and popularity among the Sikhs. Thus the resentment continues to prevail against the Badals in particular for Sukhbir Singh, President of the Shiromini Akali Dal who has claimed that the Akali Dal never sought the support of Dera Sacha Sauda. But the question remains – if they (Badals) had not sought support of Dera Sacha Sauda, then why Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim was granted pardon by the jathedar of the Akal Takhat which had to be withdrawn later following opposition from the Sikhs. Sukhbir seems to have not learnt any lesson from his past mistakes and is continuing his arrogant attitude. It was because of his arrogance that some of the senior Akali leaders namely Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Secretary General of the Akali Dal, Ranjit Singh Brahampura, lok sabha member from Khadoor Sahib, Dr. Rattan Singh Ajnala former MP, Sewa Singh Sekhwan and many other taksali leaders resigned from the mainstream party.
The Taksali leaders namely Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Dr. Rattan Singh Ajnala and Sewa Singh Sekhwan have formed a separate Akali Dal known as Akali Dal (Taksali) with Brahmpura as its president. The Taksali Akali Dal is also contesting the lok sabha elections in Punjab.
The Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced the candidature of Charanjit Singh Atwal former Deputy Speaker of the lok sabha from Jalandhar lok sabha seat (reserve), Prem Singh Chandumajra from Anandpur Sahib, Bibi Jagir Kaur from Khadoor Sahib. The fate of Harsimrat Badal, Minister in the NDA Government who represents Bathinda district is still hanging as she is facing opposition from Bathinda residents and she may shift to Ferozepur lok sabha seat. Sher Singh Gubhaya who was elected on Akali ticket from Ferozepur has also resigned as a protest against the attitude of Sukhbir Badal. He has now joined the Congress and may get the Congress party ticket. Parkash Singh Badal has become old and is not seen very active now.
Akali Dal (Taksali) has been having dialogue with the AAP and the newly formed Punjab Democratic Alliance which consists of fringe groups which have come up after the announcement of lok sabha elections. These groups are dissenters and have quit their parties or have been expelled by the original party.
Sukhpal Singh Khaira who served as leader of the opposition of the AAP in the vidhan sabha has been expelled for antiparty activities and he has setup a new party known as Punjab Ekta Party (PEP). Khaira has setup his party office in Bathinda and announced to oppose Harsimrat Badal in Bathinda.
Similarly Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi who was suspended by the AAP has setup his own party outfit known as ‘Nawan Punjab Party’ he has announced to contest from Patiala lok sabha seat from where he was elected in 2014 on AAP ticket. The Lok Insaf Party (LIP) led by Simmarjit Singh Bains and his elder brother Balwinder Singh Bains has declared his candidature from Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat. Simmarjit Bains has also announced that he will oppose Harsimrat Badal if she decides to contest from Ferozepur seat. These fringe groups have formed Punjab Democratic Alliance and Bahujan Samaj Party and CPI are also part of this alliance.
The talks of alliance between Akali Dal (Taksali) and AAP have failed and they have called off the talks. The bone of contention is Anandpur Sahib lok sabha seat for which the Taksali Akali Dal has declared for Bir Devinder Singh former Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Taksali Akali Dal has also decided to put up a candidate for Khadoor Sahib seat. Taksali Akali Dal is supporting Narendra Modi and has decided not to have any alliance with the Congress.
The ruling Congress in Punjab has announced not to have any alliance with any political party and go to the polls alone. Captain Amarinder Singh Chief Minister has asserted that the Congress would bag all thirteen lok sabha seats as it is in a very strong position.
The Punjab Congress is also faction ridden and no candidate has been officially announced on any of the thirteen seats. The Punjab Pradesh Congress has received as many as 180 applications from the aspirants of the Congress ticket. There are four to five candidates on each seat. The former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa has sought ticket from Gurdaspur lok sabha seat as Gurdaspur is his political bastion. However, Punjab Congress President Sunil jakhar has already started his election campaign from Gurdaspur since he was elected from there in the by election after the death of film actor Vinod Khanna. Manish Tiwari former Information and Broadcasting minister has sought ticket from Ludhiana and Chandigarh seats. Ravneet Bittu – the sitting MP from Ludhiana has already started his campaign in Ludhiana and is confident of the ticket from Ludhiana. Bittu is grandson of late Beant Singh Chief Minister of Punjab who was assassinated by the militants in 1995. Bittu is also close to the Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Punjab Congress has sounded the bugle of election in Punjab by organizing a massive rally at Moga where the Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi was the chief guest.
Punjab Congress is in a sound position in Punjab as the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has streamlined the state administration and taken action against the drug peddlers and also the gangsters who were very active during the SAD-BJP regime in Punjab.
Amarinder Singh has also held two phases of loan waiver for the small and marginal farmers and the third phase for the loan waiver of landless labourers has also been launched.
Amarinder has cleverly adopted the Sikh agenda which has been the mainstay of the Shiromini Akali Dal so far.
BJP which has alliance with the Shiromini Akali Dal is in a weak position. The Akali Dal has left three seats for the BJP Amritsar, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur. BJP had won Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur seats in 2014 but lost Gurdaspur in the by election after the death of Vinod Khanna. The BJP is also facing the problem of having candidates who can win the seats. Both alliance partners-Akali Dal and BJP are in a weak position at present.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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