Punjab polls from A to Z
A for AAP and Akali Dal
One is a newbie, the other is the oldest party in the state. One is making great strides as voters demand change, the other is scrambling to regain what he lost in the 2017 Assembly elections. Led by his face CM Bhagwant Mann, AAP hopes to get “ek mauka” this time.
B for BJP
A former junior partner of the Akalis, the BJP is finally asserting itself as a senior member of the alliance with the PLC of Capt Amarinder and the SAD (Sanyukt) of SS Dhindsa, 56 years after its reorganization. Lately, the new address for celebrities and panthic faces, BJP hopes to improve on its 2007 record of 19 seats.
C for Congress and Channi
The ruling party, which came to power with an overwhelming 77-seat mandate in 2017, has been crippled by the rebellion despite granting tickets to most sitting lawmakers. Although Charanjit Singh Channi’s elevation to CM last September gave him a big boost, the recent expulsion of senior party officials like Kewal Dhillon and public criticism from MPs such as Manish Tewari belie the uproar interior.
D: Dalits and debt relief
Channi’s elevation as the first Dalit CM of a state which has 32% SC population, the highest in the country, has placed emphasis on this community. But divided by religion and sub-caste, the Dalits who form more than 30% in 54 seats never voted en masse even for the BSP whose founder Kanshi Ram was born near Hoshiarpur.
Farm debt is an issue that resonates across the state at all times, even more so in these polls. This time too, debt relief was part of each party’s manifesto.
E: Education takes center stage
Fed up with the emphasis on drains and lanes since independence, voters have now expressed the need for government education that is not only customer-friendly, but also world-class. No wonder the AAP is bent on its success in Delhi while other parties promise to prioritize this sector.
F: Agricultural Agitation and SSM
These elections come on the heels of Free India’s longest-running land agitation led by the Punjab farmers’ unions. An underlying reason was the agrarian crisis which prompted each side to pledge the MSP for diversification. Candidates from a dozen farmers’ unions are also in the running under the aegis of Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) of Balbir S Rajewal.
G: men of God and deras
Punjab is known for its gods and their deras. Professor Ronki Ram of Punjab University puts the number of deras in the state at around 100. the headquarters is at Dera Sach Khand Ballan near Jalandhar. Home Minister Amit Shah made it a point to call the head of Dera Satsang Beas earlier this week. Prior to this, many Malwa politicians had flocked to Dera Sacha Sauda’s Naam Ghar which has thousands of followers in South Malwa. The parole of its leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim at the polls has raised many eyebrows.
H: Health attracts attention
One of the reasons Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi model has gained traction in the state is because of his mohalla clinics and free treatments. Now, other parties have also ensured better health care, with Akalis promising to open a medical college in every district.
I: Internal battles and IELTS
Infighting has ravaged Congress in these polls as leaders openly campaign in favor of their opponents – Rana Gurjit stands alongside her son, MP Preneet Kaur alongside her husband. There were also whispers of dissent within the AAP, but these were silenced. The frosty ties between PPCC chief Navjot Sidhu and CM Channi are showing signs of thawing, but it is rather late in the day. IELTS is also part of the Punjab polls lexicon as voters tell you how young people are taking this route to go abroad.
J: Jobs for all
At 7.4%, Punjab’s unemployment rate is almost double the national average, causing much resentment that has spilled over into this battleground of the polls. Unemployment is one of the reasons why people want to try the “navin party (new party)”.
K: Kaale kanun
In Punjab, the three agricultural laws now repealed have only one name: the kaale kanoon. Politicians from all parties have spoken about it to evoke feelings of distrust towards the Center.
Alcohol has come under intense scrutiny in these polls, with PPCC leader Navjot Sidhu saying the government could get a significant chunk of its revenue from these heady spirits if it plugs all the leaks.
M: Mafia and deputies
Opposition parties had a blast accusing ruling party MPs of leading a mafia raj. Kejriwal accused the government of running a mafia in sand mining, alcohol, hospitals and so on, easily making it a much-used word in the election campaign.
A steady supply of nasha, as locals call drugs, has been one of voters’ biggest grouses in these polls. This not only destroys lives, but also leads to anarchy in the countryside.
O: Orbital buses
These Badal owned buses have come for some mention in Malwa where Transport Minister Raja Amrinder Warring is contesting from Gidderbaha.
The high power fare that Rahul Gandhi blamed for Capt Amarinder’s ousting was on the menu for all parties as they promised to lower the fare and give it free up to certain units.
Q: Interview the voter
Never has the state seen such a questioning voter, fallout from agricultural unrest. The voter asked questions that forced politicians to raise the level of political discourse and shine a light on development.
The state is divided into three regions separated by its rivers. Malwa, the epicenter of agricultural unrest, has 69 seats in the Assembly that are witnessing a loud clamor for change from mainstream parties. Majha, the panthic border belt with 25 seats, looks set for a very tight contest, as does Doaba, the Dalit and NRI belt with 23 seats. The quietest of the three, Doaba might surprise.
S: Sacrilege and sand mining
The sacrilege, which rocked the state in the last election, has taken a back seat in these polls. There is anger over the lack of conclusive action on the cases, but this has been overtaken by angst over other issues such as illegal sand mining. Captain Amarinder further stoked public anger by saying that all of his lawmakers were involved.
T: The defectors
The 2022 polls will remain the smoothest in Punjab’s political history, with candidates switching parties at will. Ideology went on vacation as political expediency drove candidates to shift their loyalties to parties they had opposed all their lives. The AAP is accused of sending a large number of defectors, as is the BJP.
BKU (Ugrahan) led by ex-soldier Joginder Singh Ugrahan, has made a name for itself in the protest circuit by leading the agitation in a disciplined manner while saying no to politics. The Farmers’ Party has hoped against hope for his blessing, but remains neutral.
The village has remained at the center of the election campaign this year, with Covid restrictions banning large gatherings, once the mainstay of Punjab’s elections.
W: The power of women
The women, who stood out during Delhi’s year-long border turmoil, were passionately wooed by all sides with promises of a monthly stipend, interest-free loans and even LPG cylinders. The direction in which they swing will determine the winner.
X: X factor
It is this unknown that makes voters change their minds when they go to the voting booth. This explains the strident narrative of the past few days.
Y: Youth Power
The 348,836 first-time voters, unfettered by traditional factions that bind their parents and grandparents, will play a key role in this multifaceted competition where every vote will count.
Although a fast-disappearing tribe in the world of polls, he still dominates the outback where landless workers depend on him. On him rest the factions exploited by the traditional parties.