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Punjab Prospects


Aam Aadmi Party’s strong showing in the Chandigarh Municipal Elections indicates the complexities of the coming contest for the State Assembly. It also augurs the decline of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s fortunes as the ‘natural’ alternative to the Congress. Its Sikh politics is being hijacked by Navjot Singh Sidhu’s fundamentalist pitch, even as its breakup with the BJP has ensured a solid transferable vote bank has been lost. AAP’s rise has not been sudden – it has representation in the assembly and parliament from the state. Enough people are choosing it as the ‘alternative’, particularly those not committed to any particular ideology.

AAP’s ‘spread’ in Chandigarh provided it the most number of seats – 14, despite having won the fewest votes – 27.13 percent. The BJP, which suffered the biggest setback, won 12 seats with 29.25 percent. The Congress got 29.87 percent of the votes but won only 8 seats. SAD had to be content with just one seat. Clearly the BJP and Congress votes have come from ‘enclaves’ – probably the better off sectors of the city. The BJP, which ran the Municipality before this, has been punished for poor governance, while its break-up with SAD will also have had an impact. If this is anything to go by, Punjab politics has fragmented to the point where a hung assembly could be in the offing.

One important lesson is that the lower down the political structure, the more direct governance matters. Larger issues and long-term policies, as well as the pull of the national leadership, do not have the same impact when it is about garbage management, public facilities and general services. No political party, including the powerful BJP can do without effective leadership at the grassroots.

The BJP is already working on compensating for the loss of SAD votes by tying up with Captain Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and former Union Minister SS Dhindsa’s SAD (Sanyukt). Those within the Congress and SAD who are unhappy with the present situation will have a non-AAP alternative to choose. The Shiromani Akali Dal is likely to end up the big loser, which despite being a long term and trusted ally of the BJP failed to play its cards right. Had it stayed in the alliance, it could have taken credit for the farm laws being repealed. It can only be hoped that it will not revert to fundamentalist politics in what has been for long a volatile state.