Analyzing current political situation in Punjab
– by Vikramjeet Vick
Today, Punjab is boiling hot in the electoral vessel held up in a tripod of uneven and unfriendly legs- Captain, Badal and Kejriwal. Many ‘private surveys’ and ‘exit polls’ are being coined in the public and many glamorous slogans are being shouted loudly on the social media. The parties whom these surveys favour quickly endorse them and others reject it. Previously, in 2012, PPP made a triangular tussle in Punjab, consequently, Parkash Singh Badal managed to win inspite of a big anti-incumbency. Now, Aam Admi Party has created paranoia among anti-Badal voters lest the Raj Krange Pachi Saal the slogan of Badal should become true. On the other hand, Captain Amarinder Singh took charge in his hands and has started many campaigns to interact with people while putting his political career on stake. Politics, a necessary evil, cannot be first but least choice of common people to discuss or think upon, because the poor, dalits, farmers, petty shopkeepers, youth and downtrodden have not get anything that had been promised to them in elections. Especially, the un-employed youth, declining peasantry and landless dalits have been living in a complete despair. Many times, their anguish spilled over the roads in the forms dharnas or demonstrations but the government, behaving like bare-knuckle brawler, always bashed the people mercilessly.
In this chaotic politico-economic scenario, it will be pre-mature to comment whether this party will make government or the other in 2017. But, it is must to understand how the people of Punjab are receiving the issues, agendas, ideologies and slogans to make their minds and opinions. This article is not any opinion in the favour or against any political party rather it tries to be an unbiased comprehensive assimilation of various grounds, factors and issues which are shaking up the public opinion in Punjab.
A glimpse on history of Punjab: After the reorganization of Punjab with division of Maha Punjab in 1967, the changed demographic equations fulfilled the very ‘objective’ of Punjabi Suba movement. Consequently, the Punjab has always remained in the hands of Sikh Chief-Ministers rather Jat Sikh Chief Ministers. Though, Punjab faced a great many president rules but whenever any government came, whether be it collation government or other, it was dominated with rural Jat-Sikh community. In 1972, after winning unambiguous majority, this was the Congress party in which Giani Zail Singh was elected Chief Minister. He was the only C.M. belonging to backward class who later on served as first Sikh president of India, in the same era when Golden temple had been attacked.
Initially, the Akali Dal emerged to ‘safeguard’ the Sikh religion and its interests. There were many factions in Akali fold, right from its beginning. Unfortunately, the partition of India took place on communal ground that made the minorities more insecure or conscious about their identities. Therefore, it triggered a struggle for power in Sikhs to bargain with center for more regional and communal interests which later on reflected in sharp political conflict, finally it resulted into radicalization of Sikhs during 1980 to 1990. Some projects brought the water-sharing conflicts between Haryana and Punjab. The rising popularity of Indira Gandhi after a winning Indo-Pak war in 1971, swept the whole opposition by getting stupendous majority at center and the same was followed in Punjab in 1972.With the unrest of not getting stable government (1967 to 1971), president rules and having alienated from power (1972 to 1977), the peasantry and Sikhs (especially Jats) could not get satisfied. And also the status of Chandigarh, water-sharing issues and the demand of inclusion of some Punjabi speaking areas of Haryana back to Punjab were disputed.
Now, the fertile ground and grievances against the center had ripened to bring the state-center relation in open discussion followed by three Anandpur Sahib Resolutions. Today, the politics over these issues still prevail in Punjab, though no one knows what the fate of these demands would be. Some dhram yudh morchas were held and every time, Akali factionalism became more evident. Sikh nationalism got strengthened in some folds of Akalis, contrarily, the Akali group under the leadership of Mr.Parkash Singh Badal tried to adapt into reality and hence survived politically resulting into a little democratization of his faction. After having invited by Rajiv Gandhi, the Capt. Amarinder Singh joined the congress party in 1980 and resigned the party in 1984 as a protest against Congress when it had launched an attack on Golden Temple. After, working as one of stalwart leaders in Akali Dal, he broke away from Akalis in 1992 and finally remerged with congress in 1998. Simultaneously, Mr.Parkash Singh Badal diluted the Sikh Nationalism since he realized Akali could never make government alone, which is why he tied up with RSS/Bharti Jan Sangh upholding Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat on Moga declaration (1995). This changed stance led to make the first government of Akali Dal in 1997 which completed the five years office tenure. Subsequently, Punjab witnessed peace and stability, though the right wing patterns had existed harming the standard of social justice.
Being stick to present scenario, it is unaffordable to write in details about the all major conflicting players of Punjab polity that significantly reflect the Punjabi psyche. These well known players are Leftism, Naxalism, Bhaujanwaad , Deras-Sikh conflicts, Dalit-Jatt conflicts etc.
This is the same Punjab which accepted the two extreme opposite religious ideologies the Panthak and the Sangh which are still ruling the State. Paradoxically, this is the only Punjab which embraced two diametrically opposite militant movements- Naxalite and Khalistani movements in the same time period. One of which was based on religious sentiments and other had nothing to do with religion. In fact, both movements were originated from agrarian crisis that had begun with green revolution and more or less an outcome of identity crisis. It shows that how the Punjabis are enthusiastic and hyper-reflexive towards any new rhetoric of emotional extreme. Interestingly, they also throw out the same extremism very soon when/if they feel cheated, deceived or betrayed. Hence, it was only Punjab which resonated with the highly idealistic and high-flown narrative of Arvind Kejriwal to whom entire country had rejected in Lok Sabha election, 2014.
The above said story is just brief attempt to pinpoint the historical moments which are gone deep into collective memories of Punjabis, consciously or unconsciously affecting the political decisions of individuals. Let’s think of opinions critically to make a new one. Therefore, let your mind lapse into major points discussed below in a pragmatic manner.
Political Experience: Mr. Parkash Singh Badal is a stalwart Sikh leader who has abundant experience in panthik politics. He is the only leader in Akali fold who not only survived but also championed the Sikh mass support from rural to urban centers. He smartly chose and left the social classes or groups suiting his electoral gain in ever changing socio-economic dynamic of society. Also he is allegedly responsible in curbing the business and choking the economic growth of Punjab. Actually, it is said that for now he is a lesser a chief-minister but more a businessman who just believe in managing or arranging the voters. On the one side, he is supposed to make peace in the state, but on the other hand, he is also alleged to make communal-caste tensions / polarization when he fears to be out of power or when he is out of power. He has a huge experience of aggressive politics to administrative politics. He has been in resistance politics and also in parliamentary politics for many years thus having a good hold on Punjabi-Sikh psyche. Though, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal remains contentious among other Akali factions, yet one credit goes to him is that he has started the democratic process in Sikhs, cleverly derailing the militants.
Captain Amarinder Singh with a unique political journey, from Maharaja to Captain to Chief Minister is full of adventure, patriotism having different kind of attachment with Punjab. He was the only, democratic Sikh leader in Akalis who challenged Mr. Parkash Badal in internal and external political affairs. He is the only leader in the Punjab for whom the people often say that they are the big fans of him. Capt. Amarinder Singh is supposed as Paniyan da rakha in a large chunk of rural folk. He is equally popular in all sub-regions of Punjab- Majha, Malwa and Doaba. Further extending the democratic process, the Captain crusaded and defeated his clever opponent Mr. Parkash Singh Badal in 2002 and became the Chief-Minister of Punjab. Infact, the opposition does not have something tangible against him to speak up in their campaigns except shouting Raja –Raja. Sometimes, it seems that Captain is not only a pure-politician but he possesses the qualities of a academic-intellectual and statesman attitude too. It will be unjust to forget the tenure of Captain’s regime. This was the Captain who had introduced/implemented properly merit system in recruitments, transparency in administration, provided adequate price to farmers for crop yields, attempted to raise the business in the state irrespective the resistance from within party and high command. It reminds the words of Mr. Bhagwant Mann that sakhatayi hogie while alerting scoundrel and corrupts in his comedy track Bhagwant Maan Full Speed. Captain’s decisions are always stunning and surprising. He fought against Mr. Jaitley and thwarted him at the time when the entire Congress was out of order in whole country. Moreover, the Congress party has always been full of factionalism and elitism, beginning from the higher echelon to student groups, which many times hinders the grass root reality to reach sincere leadership who actually want to win elections.
AAP’s young politics of ‘changing the rules of politics’ and the anti-incumbency against both state & center governments helped it to enter into Punjab. Though, AAP is kind of a new born toddler in politics who harassed many overwhelming political leaders, yet as a an conspicuous expression of its overall political as well its leaders’ personal immaturity, it is evident that they always become aggressive and furious whenever anyone questions AAP’s work style, agendas or party programme. Now days, Aam Aadmi Party which is a product of anti-corruption movement seems going for away from its ideology – transparency and Swaraj. AAP managed to win in Delhi because the local leadership was aware of multi-cultural nature of metropolitan city. But, Punjabi society is qualitatively different and integrated having different political culture. C.M. Arvind Kejriwal, being in Delhi and because of media sensationalism he always remains in news headlines, but rift between Kejriwal and Modi questions the administration of Kejriwal in public perception. So, in case of Punjab, AAP is completely lacking political and administrative experience. Even, Mr. Bhagwant Maan, the only old leader left in AAP seems to be more talkative but less a statesman.
Organizational Structure: After having been out of power for ten years, the Punjab Congress had lost the organizational hold within the party. Although, Congress had been in power at center, but it failed to organize the party structures, hence the laziness of higher leadership could not stop factionalism in Punjab. No doubt, Captain has revived many organizational outfits in last one year. But, the problem with Congress is that it is dominated with elite and higher class which constitutes advising and helping hands to Captain, unfortunately, does not understand the real objective picture at rural level, rather create a subjective wall around Captain Amrinder Singh to please him by false reporting. The political power resides in, not only the elected MLA’s but also in the persons having a strong position in party structure and organs. Though, there may be two or three SC/BC members in Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, but why the Congress is so shy to float its Dalit and OBC wings, on contrary, Captain himself makes Jat Maha Sabha. What kind of politics this is! But, Capt. Amarinder Singh is welcoming all petty-parties and groups like BSP, Communists etc to build wider front against Akalis & AAP, it shows his political maturity which may help him to succeed. He has already merged PPP in congress party reflecting the formation of Great alliance learning and trying to imitate the greatly successful experiment of Nitish-Lalu alliance in Bihar.
On the other side, Mr. Sukhbir Badal is good at managing and organizing rural folk, youth and agricultural class by connecting their psyche to his party, by assigning them certain roles in various party organs. His Machiavellian-cunning approach of giving upper hand to the leaders of party and its affiliated organs, over the party MLAs is one of the unique instruments to empower the party structures. These are the alternate organs of Akali party which are operated for what the people say Akali are accessible whether they do work or not. It is only Akali Party who has brought SC/OBC fronts in Punjab that associates to various ‘lower caste’ communities. It does not mean that Akali Dal is empowering the ‘lower caste’ or fighting for caste annihilation but the political engagements are the first premise towards democratization of society especially in representative democracy. At present, while having power in hand, Akali Dal is peculiarly vigil to manage the voters. Ironically, after two consecutive plans, Akali Dal is still in race of making government. Obviously, the situation would be clear, if AAP were not there. AAP, being a new and immature is not well organized, rather seems to be self-destructive. After becoming Chief-minister, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal had become autocratic and started killing the dissent within the party. He expelled Mr.Yoginder Yadav and Parshant Bhushan-the co-founder of AAP party, by highly centralizing the party structure. It is pertinent to mention that Kejriwal, the super protagonist of Swaraj is alleged for killing internal democracy.
On the same pattern, He has also sidelined two winning MPs, Dhramvir Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa. The first convener of AAP, Punjab unit, Mr. Sumel Sidhu had to leave the party, just after victory of four MPs in 2014 and now the second convener Mr. Chhotepur is being expelled. All the parties have the same stories but the party which had come to power in Delhi in the name of Swaraj (decentralization of power) should not have killed internal dissent and its own ideological principle. AAP has been relying on big rallies and gathering big crowd at staged programme since from beginning. But, scarcely, it has succeeded to create homogeneous and organic party structure. Mr.Chhotepur, having a background of Akali and Congress, has traditional experience of making and holding party organizations and institutions. That’s why he managed many things in the party, especially focusing on his own position in party. Because of inbuilt split in the party, AAP is suffering with severe group-ism, and this is only party which does not have a firm party constitution. Moreover, the central leadership Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak are not politically experienced and have failed to understand Punjabi-Sikh and rural psyche, and they are not able to control group-ism rather they are also blamed for enhancing it.
A strict Party Constitution is only method to refine and minimize opportunism in any party justifying the concept of Aam Aadmi. AAP has altered the concept of common man (Aam Aadmi). Who is Aam Aadmi in AAP? If AAP accepts any person irrespective of his class then what is merit to be called Aam Aadmi? In nutshell, the Aam Aadmi Party has a dynamic crowd and volunteers creating hype in the form of wave but not proper party structure that are most important to transform crowd into voters.
Wave: Often, the people talk of wave, a political wave. In Punjab, you can see many people saying whose wave is going on. What does the term wave mean? What kind of wave is going on in Punjab? Firstly, the people are confused between the electoral wave and the wave created by people’s movement. For example, when Anna and company were fighting for Lok Pal bill to combat corruption in country, then there was a wave, anti-corruption wave. But, when the splinter group under Kejriwal made a political party, though to manifest the same, yet political party is not connected with only one agenda, rather it focuses on electoral gains which involves many other aspects, hence, the core idea never gets manifested, rather makes the party politically corrupt on some issues. So, it is relevant to discuss electoral wave. Obviously, this wave is created by Party itself, its leaders and intellectuals while talking through one’s hat, the private T.V. media, print media, social media and most importantly the local youth. And it is not easy to gauge precisely this electoral wave as different classes of people are connected with different sources. For example, in case of Delhi’s election, no survey or exit poll could predict this so called wave of AAP, even Mr. Kejriwal himself got stunned by the final result. Similarly, in the recent Bihar assembly election, all survey agencies, T.V houses and electronic media predicted Modi Wave at the top but the same wave was smashed by under-cover Nitish-Lalu wave– the counter wave. Therefore, now the people of Punjab are aware of these so called waves based on fake surveys, privately owned media and the parties themselves.
Hot issues and Campaign mode: In Punjab, the issues and agendas which are being preached are the same as were in Lok Sabha Election, 2014. Akali Dal is held responsible to promote synthetic drugs and liquor, farmer suicides, unemployment, Bus-business mafia, nepotism, corruption in jobs, mis–use of scholarship fund meant for dalits and mis-governance, thus, creating high level anti-incumbency in the state. Interestingly, the same anguish was there in 2014, even then, Akali Dal along with BJP succeeded in grabbing 35 percent vote share claiming 6 seats out of 13. SYL-water sharing conflict is also a key. Badal and Captain seems more vocal and firm in SYL issue, but AAP is very reluctant and confused on this matter. In the light of these agendas, both Congress and AAP are scuffling bravely against Akali Dal.
But, the campaign of AAP led by comedian turned politician, the outspoken orator Mr. Bhagwant Maan seems very aggressive, emotionally influencing (like the Communist groups) but devoid of constructive programme to handle the evils he only offers sarcasm in his speeches. Though, he connects to people easily because of his Malwai metaphor, but it is not going to work in Majha and Doab regions. Ironically, it seems that Bhagwant Maan is AAP and AAP is Bhagwant Maan. At the same time, the Captain’s campaigns appear very sincere, focused, decentralized and very constructive. The campaigns entitled Coffee with Captain, Halke vich Captain by Captain are inclusive, bilateral and different. Instead, AAP wishes to create a psychological wave in the people and regularly engage its workers in projecting each rally a mega show, so that the people and its worker cannot even think of anything else. This populism with the metaphor of accusing the parties “two peas in pod” sometime works well in getting power, but it can not necessarily deliver better future. See, what the wonders Mr Modi has delivered to the people of India! It reminds words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar that “…Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.” Also Mr. Paraskh Badal is working in traditional way of Sangat Darshan to woo the panthik vote. But, Sukhbir Badal is more successfully reconstructing the youth outfits and rural folk. Also SAD-BJP alliance probably will be intact. Moreover, BJP used be a party with a highest strike rate in urban centers may decline in this coming election. Akali Dal is trying to emphasize on infrastructural development including roads, flyovers and bridges in their campaigns.
Congress used to be divided house, but now it does not appear so. Recently at rakhad puniya rally, both Captain and Bajwa came to rally in one car, sat together and dined together to shatter the public perception. It is not any small development for Majha politics. Rajinder Kaur Bhatthal is working with Manpreet Badal in manifesto committee. Raja Warring, a popular orator, is campaigning in Majha and Partap Bajwa has been given responsibility of organizing farmers. A big credit must be given to Parshant Kishore (who has worked hard in making Nitish Kumar C.M. of Bihar) for his idea of decentralized campaigning.
It is unfortunate that Janata Dal (United) is absent in present arena. Janata Party had a great history in Punjab politics which, along with Akali Dal, made a first surplus majority government in Punjab, while leading anti-Indira front at national level in 1977. Today, if one observes current national scenario of untamed negative nationalism and shameful harassment of intellectuals, oppressed and minorities, then it becomes clear that in absence of strong INC at National level only JD(U) under Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav is leading a real political as well as ideological opposition against BJP, RSS and communal forces while organizing federal and secular forces. In General election, 2019, whether Nitish Kumar emerges a successful Prime Ministerial candidate or not, Janata Dal (United) & liberal intellectuals will be the real opposition against Anti-dalit and anti-minorties forces.
Reservation Policy, Dalits and Parties: Punjab has witnessed many social boycotts of dalits and caste based discrimination. After decline of BSP, the entire dalit vote got scattered. The Ravidasis, doaba voters slipped back to congress fold when BSP made alliance with Akali in 1996. Whereas dalit sikh vote got consolidated in Akali fold as Badal started to give more representations and tickets to them. Besides, Badal’s slogan of Punjabiyat suppressed the dalit identity and hence the debate for welfare of dalit has withered away from political scenario of Punjab. Any party irrespective of ideology is bound to have certain inflow of Jat votes because still theory of faction works very well in rural Punjab. In Punjab, the Jat voter infact need not to be much worried because of it being a strong social and economic section, it is more power oriented, and hence it will naturally divide in three parties. Hence, dalit-OBC vote (approximately 55 percent of total population) and urban Hindu vote will prominently decide the fate.
Although, the Akalis and Congress could not deliver the governance with social justice yet they have worked well in agreement with Constitution of India in matters of reservation policy. But, in case of AAP, it is very against the idea of reservation for SCs/STs/OBCs and they support economic base reservation. National Spokesperson of AAP, Dr.Kumar Vishwas, often condemns caste based reservation, instead upholds the economy based reservations which any mature student of national politics knows that constitutionally it is not possible to do away with Article 16. Mr.Kejrival and company never condemn his Machiavellian trick to deprive downtrodden and historically oppressed communities. AAP seems very against the idea of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar to uplift dalits and women. Ironically, the opposition also did not raise the voice against Kejriwal and Kumar Vishwas with an exception of Lalu Prasad Yadav, categorically mentioning this fact while he was MP in UPA-2 during Lok Sabha debate on Lokpal bill.
Morevoer, Hardip Singh Kingra, a part splinter group, former AAP activist, revealed that Mr. Durgesh Pathak argued that Reservation has ruined the country while debating on the issues of formation of SC/BC wings. That’s why, AAP seems to be a sophisticated version of RSS.
Mr. Bhagwant Maan either seems politically illiterate or over-smart while branding all the problems of Punjab as the problems of only one community i.e. Jats- a landed class. He should have known that two-third dalits are landless labourers, petty-shopkeepers do not own lands, and wage labourers are have-nots. So, why he is doing so? How disgusting! If he had been in accordance with anti-caste principle of Sikhism, he should have not quoted surname Maan, instead Singh, behind his name, not only he mentions caste which is prohibited among Sikhs but he also subtracts ‘Singh’ from the name and mentions only caste! It raises the question that even after being an outstanding rhetorician what is his identity? An Indian, a Sikh or merely a representative of just one caste? What is he but his caste.
In view of dalit issues, all the parties appear hand in glove. No one talks of land reforms which are very necessary for uplifting socio-economic status of dalits and raising the level of business. Why all are silent on the issues of education quality in government school? Reason being, 95 percent dalit children join government school, because of poverty and social alienation. Scholarship funds are misused, then why any party does not speak a word for that? Does any party have guts to support such politics of change in public campaign? In the same way, the issues for betterment of women’s condition are out of political scene of Punjab.
Ticket distribution: Ticket distribution is a turning point in electoral politics. Ticket distribution plays major role in assembly election. The factors that play in ticket distribution are candidate image, economic status, religion, caste and gender. Also the high command culture in national parties influences the process of ticket distribution. History tells that Punjab Congress has worse record in ticket distribution, as it has been discussed above that for being improper as well as elite dominated structure, a true ground report does not go to Punjab high command.
Now,the problem, Mr.Badal is facing is that the serious anti-incumbency. So, he may include and project new or fresh candidates to encounter such tight anti-incumbency situation. AAP is very quick and the first party in case of tickets distribution. The Kejriwal team and their trustworthy, Bhagwant Mann while anticipating the rebellion in Punjab committee are deliberately announcing tickets in small installments to avoid a big split in party. AAP could have done the best if it had stopped the unnatural factionalism and money bags in ticket distribution. Also it could have professed wider involvement of volunteers in candidate selection if only AAP had good organic structure based on strict party constitution and democracy from below. A rift that has started inside the party, after announcement of two lists of candidates is not going to stop till final phase. The volunteers have started to condemn the candidates on social media. According to them, almost all candidates are parachute and discarded stuff of Congress-Akalis or of filthy backgrounds having criminal, corrupt image. Simultaneously, these angry and segregated volunteers may accelerate the formation of fourth front which is being floated by the chief rebels of AAP. It is fact that the whole national leadership of AAP is from Hindu upper caste, so minorities and dalits are naturally and deliberately being alienated. Moreover, the Delhi-Punjab contradictions which are often visible in Punjabi proverbs are again catching fire. Apart from Bhawant Mann’s catchy oratory, the major reason of big crowd rallies was the strong cyber brigade working on social media day and night. But, now these volunteers are divided into two groups, debating over the functioning of mainstream AAP. It is the first time in the history of Punjab when middle class which was vehemently influenced by AAP’s propaganda, believing in a radical change, got a severe psychological setback in the politics. The way AAP is using sting operation as a popular instrument to expel its leaders, is surprising and may damage the remaining democracy inside the party and promote culture of Stalinist parties. Punjabi Diaspora who has a major role in establishing AAP in Punjab looks baffled and doubtful watching the power hungry intentions of leaderships while ticket distribution.
Chief-Ministerial face: Captain Amarinder Singh is the only C.M. candidate from Congress, and there is no open tussle about it now, as other contenders have accepted his leadership long time ago. After Bathinda rally, Captain Amarinder Singh has strategically chosen to stay away from media sensationalism and is working towards gathering anti Akali forces in the state. Moreover, Akali Dal seems to be fighting under the C.M. Parkash Singh Badal but who will be next Chief Mister remains scheme of future if SAD gets majority.
AAP has got stuck in an awkward condition. If it projects Bhagwant Maan or H.S.Phollka as C.M. candidate before election poll, then many claimants of C.M. chair may slip away. If Mr. Kejriwal declares himself or his wife, a C.M. candidate of Punjab, then it may lead to a sharp divide on the basis of outsider-insider against Punjabi. In that scenario, it will be like Bihar election where in the absence of strong leaders, Modi face was projected against Nitish Kumar after having anticipated a fragmentation in party’s senior leadership and what happened there in the form of – Bihari against Bahri? Consequently, a big swing of voters happened in favour of regionalism. Now in case of AAP in Punjab it is evident, that during the formation and development of AAP in Punjab, contribution was made more by ticket seekers than sincere followers of AAP’s original principles and its promise of change in political culture rather these are being ignored. AAP also may use the trick to appease all the remaining top leadership with luring and tempting them to declare each and every one of them as C.M. so that they would remain intact with party till election’s victory as was done in Haryana by BJP.
All the queries are in the womb of future. Whether, Akali Dal will save itself by taking the advantage of vote division between Congress and AAP? Is Punjab again ready for new political adventure in the form of AAP? Will Captain succeed in this political war as once he had done by rejoining Army leaving his royal lifestyle in 1965? Or Punjab may perhaps recall the same black days of President Rule?