Punjab braces for new poll order

With four political fronts and a ‘fed up’ electorate, the state looks at a fascinating contest in 2017

Published: 18th September 2016 09:28 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th September 2016 09:37 AM   |  A+A-

CHANDIGARH: Till a few months ago, the SAD-BJP alliance and the Congress were confident they would keep up the story of governance in Punjab by turn. In the past 14 years, both parties have won seven Assembly elections each. But this time a third party, AAP, has cropped up and has gained the confidence of the people who are “fed up” with rampant corruption, deteriorating law and order, mafia raj and drug abuse. These issues have been driving the campaign of all political parties of the state except the ruling alliance, which has been fighting the elections on the development plank. Of the 117 seats, a survey by CVoter has predicted 80 to 100 seats for AAP.

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New fronts and groups have also emerged. Recently, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and former Indian hockey captain Pargat Singh floated Awaz-e-Punjab. Pargat left SAD after a bitter tiff with the Badal family.

Expelled AAP state convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur might join Awaz-e-Punjab to make it a credible fourth front, which is in touch with suspended AAP MPs Dharamvir Gandhi from Patiala and Harinder Singh Khalsa from Fatehgarh.

“If we decide to contest, there won’t be any post-poll alliance with SAD-BJP or Congress. We will see the situation and then decide in the interest of Punjab,” Pargat said.

Gandhi, who won from Patiala, the home turf of Capt Amarinder Singh, has floated Punjab Oriented Political Platform. Small outfits such as Apna Punjab Party, Swaraj Party, Jai Jawan Jai Kisan Party and volunteers from AAP are expected to support him.

“We are not averse to an alliance with Sidhu’s front. But he has to leave behind the BJP ideology and adopt the federal structure of India, the democratic structure of Punjab, which is decimalisation of police and bureaucracy, and powers to gram panchayats,” Gandhi said. He said that his front will not fight the elections this time as he might be decimated. “We are trying to get everyone on board to fight the Congress, SAD-BJP and AAP. We will then form a party and fight the elections,” Chhotepur said. “Arvind Kejriwal wants to be CM of Punjab as there is nothing left for him in Delhi and he wants just yes men.”

If a larger front comes about, this would be seen as a second credible threat for the two main political parties besides AAP.

It is not clear which way Yogendra Yadav-led AAP breakaway group Swaraj Party will go. “We are in touch with all stakeholders and will fight together. If Sidhu’s front gets in touch with us and if we arrive on any common minimum agenda, then their joining us will boost our front. We are in touch with Left parties and the BSP,” Manjit Singh, state convener of Swaraj Party, said.

The electoral battle has been further crowded by Sikh radicals. The United Akali Dal (UAD), under whose banner the Sarbat Khalsa was held recently, is a hardcore Akali Dal baiter. “We will contest the coming elections and are open to alliance to any other parties except SAD-BJP and Congress,” Mokham Singh, president of UAD, said.

Ex-servicemen are also not behind. United Front of Indian Ex-Servicemen (Jantar Mantar) has also jumped into the fray with Fauji Janata Party. Chairman of the front, Major General Satbir Singh (Retired), said, “We have decided to fight the elections to protect the rights of ex-servicemen.”

What remains to be seen is who will tap the 32 per cent Dalit vote bank in the state, the highest in the country. The BSP hopes to cash in on the outrage against Dalits. Left parties are also waiting in the wings. In 2012, they supported People’s Party of Punjab, floated by Manpreet Singh Badal. Manpreet, however, has since joined the Congress.

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