The sweeping victory for the Congress in Punjab’s urban area polls is being attributed to the people’s sentiments towards the ongoing farmers’ protest. This is only partially true. It has also to do with the break-up of the SAD-BJP alliance. The BJP, by itself, has never been a prominent player in the Punjab political scene. The Aam Aadmi Party, which had received a better response in the state in the past as compared to forays in other places, has also taken a beating. While SAD could be accused of changing its stance on the agri-laws from pro to anti, AAP has been strongly opposing them with its usual populist approach.
Part of the support for Congress is also due to the concern among the people over the increased profile of Khalistan supporters among the protestors. Nobody knows better than the people of the state the harm that the movement has caused in social and economic terms. As such, what they don’t want in the least is political instability. This is where credit goes to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for being uncompromising when it comes to national security and integrity. He has drawn a strict line between politics and national interest. This is quite unlike his party’s High Command, which has lost no opportunity to attack the Modi Government, no matter what impact it has on the nation’s security and international image. It must not be forgotten that it was the miscalculation by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the attempt to get the better of SAD, which had led to the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the first place. There is a fresh danger emerging in the state owing to foreign funding and manipulation that cannot be ignored or underestimated.
This election shows that Congress can adopt a political posture that is not so focused on PM Modi, and still be successful. In the states where the Congress still has some following, greater trust needs to be reposed in Amarinder Singh like leaders, instead of choosing those whose only qualification is unquestioning fealty to the first family. This applies also to Uttarakhand, where the party has hemorrhaged badly. The insistence of Harish Rawat, for instance, in evoking the absolute infallibility of Sonia Gandhi, is not doing the party much good. The right lessons need to be learned from the successes in Punjab.