WHY PUNJAB WENT THE OTHER WAY?
Punjab could stand out as Amarinder played Modi in Punjab. He remained grounded and refused to be trapped and refrained from blindly following the Congress Party’s plank, i.e., Modi Bashing. It will not be wrong if it is observed that he appropriated and extended Prime Minister Modi’s narrative on National Security and nurturing identity politics which contributed to the Saffron surge in the country.
AMARINDER PLAYED MODI IN PUNJAB
After Pulwama attack, he echoed Prime Minister Modi’s assertion, but with significant additions. He asserted that, ‘Pakistan killed 41, we should kill 82’, calling for ‘tit-for-tat’. He further added that, ‘Pakistan can’t hold India to ransom just because they are a nuclear nation, even we are’. He cautioned Pakistan on terror and at the same time endorsed the building of the Kartarpur Corridor as a promotion of the people to people contact. He endorsed Prime Minister Modi’s stand by highlighting that it was time to act and not talk and desired a comprehensive strategy - a mix of military, diplomatic and economic measures against Pakistan. He cautioned Pakistan on terrorism and, at the same time, endorsed the building of the Kartarpur Corridor as a promotion of people to people contact. He blamed the Pakistani Army for terrorism unlike other Congress leaders and complimented Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, for such initiatives. That’s what the Government of India pursued. It connected well with the people’s expectations.
Not only this, he disagreed with the Congress Party’s position of questioning the reliability and effectiveness of the army strikes against Pakistan. He refused to comment on the veracity of the number of terrorists killed in the strikes, ‘whether it was one or 100, the message had gone loud and clear that the nation will not let the killing of its innocent soldiers and citizens go unpunished.’ This appealed to the large section of the ‘patriotic and nationalist Punjabis’ irrespective of religious and caste affiliations. Amarinder Singh filled Modi’s gap in Punjab and helped the Congress to maintain its supremacy.
BLENDED NATIONALISM WITH IDENTITY POLITICS
Not only this, he blended nationalism with identity politics as has been done by the BJP in other States, but with a moderation. At the national level, violation of the cow has led to violent reactions from the fundamentalists. Similarly, in Punjab, the desecration of the religious books has led to extreme reactions leading to targeting of a political party and its leaders. Religious sentiments were invoked and, in turn, it provided fodder to the radical elements. Here, Captain Amarinder Singh applied moderation and in a statement to the electronic media, accused Pakistan’s ISI design to destabilise Punjab by orchestring desecration of the religious books, including Guru Granth Sahib, Gita, Bible. He distinguished between desecration and the police action in Bargari. Whereas, the Bargari brigade led by the Ministers targeted the rival political party, the Akali Dal exhorted their own Chief Minister to take action against them. They even accused him of political mix up. The Chief Minister kept the issue alive, but asserted that law shall take its own course.
So, it was a heady and toxic mix of nationalism and religious identity that was nurtured in India and Punjab. In Punjab, due to moderation applied by Amarinder, it did not lead to polarisation on the religious lines. He has not gone overboard to appropriate religious emotions of the Sikh community per se, but located Kartarpur Corridor initiative in a larger context. He gave a politically mature, culturally prudent and diplomatically profound twist to the politics in Punjab.
DECIMATON OF THE AAM ADMI PARTY
Another major factor is the decimation of the Aam Admi Party as Punjab is back to the bipolar politics. The vote share of Aam Admi Party declined from 24 per cent in 2014 to 7 per cent in 2019 elections. In all the constituencies except Bathinda, Sangrur and Khadoor Sahib, the vote share of both the losing and the winning party, i.e., the Congress, and the Akali Dal has increased at the expense of the Aam Admi Party. In Bathinda, the seat won by the Akali Dal, the vote share of both the Congress and the Akali Dal has decreased, whereas the share of the Aam Admi Party has increased. In Sangrur, the seat was won by the Aam Admi Party with a decreased vote share. In Khadoor Sahib, the hard core Akali seat, the vote share of both the Congress and the Punjab Ekta Party has increased while the Akali Dal vote share saw massive decrease. The seat was mainly affected by the desecration of the religious books.
RESURGENCE OF THE AKALI DAL
This election also provided resurgence to the Akali-BJP alliance. The vote share of the Akali Dal increased by 2 per cent as compared to 2014 Parliament Elections and the vote share of the BJP increased by 1 per cent from 2014 to 2019 elections. And, as compared to 2017 assembly elections, the combined vote of both the BJP and the SAD increased by 7 per cent in 2019 Parliament Elections.
Interestingly, the SAD-BJP doubled their seat share and the Congress Party declined by 14 per cent as compared to 2017 elections. Significant fact is that the Congress could maintain rural constituencies, whereas, its support in semi-urban and urban constituencies has declined. The Akali Dal could not increase their seat share in rural Punjab. Their major gains are in semi-urban and urban constituencies.
So, what are the takeaways of the election in Punjab? Firstly, effortless anti-incumbency campaigns, devoid of ideological persuasion and regional and positive agenda may not appeal to the people. For instance, in Punjab, the SAD did not even bring out its own manifesto and, announced a Common Minimum Programme along with BJP. These parties did not even raise their traditional demands like transfer of Chandigarh and Punjabi-speaking areas to Punjab, sharing of river waters, formal consultation forums for the regional parties in decisions-making at the national and global level on issues like, petroleum prices, fertiliser subsidies, doubling the farmers’ income, employment generation policies, etc.
Another lesson is that the regional parties should develop their own vision and thoughts on national security, for instance, building people to people connect in South-Asia, opening of trade with Pakistan to the benefit of Punjab farmers and to overcome agrarian distress, rather succumbing to a particular kind of discourse on national security or stand in negation.
The regionalisation of the national agenda, as has been done by Amarinder Singh is needed, to reinforce diversity sensitivity and to promote the regional specific development paradigm.
May 25, 2019
( First Published in Hindustan Times , Chandigarh )
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