After a challenging campaign for BJP in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal, what will June 4 throw up?

The BJP in Haryana aimed to leverage non-Jat votes, banking on its development work and governance transparency, while the Congress relied on anti-incumbency and angst.
Kangana Ranaut (R) and Vikramaditya Singh are in the fight for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. The result there will be among the most keenly watched on June 4.
Kangana Ranaut (R) and Vikramaditya Singh are in the fight for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. The result there will be among the most keenly watched on June 4. Express Illustrations | Mandar Pardikar

June 4 will witness the outcome of a four-cornered contest in Punjab among AAP, Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with some seats even witnessing a five-cornered contest. The elections were largely devoid of any significant wave in the state.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Himachal Pradesh, the BJP faced a daunting task.

In Haryana, too, where BJP registered a clean sweep in 2019, it was a tight contest between the BJP and Congress.

An analysis of the campaign and the likely outcomes in the three states:

Punjab

In Punjab, most political parties have scarcely touched upon critical issues such as unemployment, illegal sand mining, and drug abuse.

Even age-old issues like the sharing of river waters, including the SYL canal dispute and the control over Chandigarh, found little mention from candidates, except from those in the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Throughout the elections, farmers protested against BJP candidates, accusing the Centre of failing to fulfill promises made during the 2020-21 farm agitation, particularly regarding the legal guarantee to Minimum Support Price (MSP). With the BJP fighting solo in the state, it's banking on reverse polarisation, aiming to consolidate non-Jat votes, which include nearly 45 percent of Hindus and SC Hindus.

Some critics had pointed out that the choice of June 1 as the polling day of June 1 to coincide with the first day of the Ghallughara week, marking the 40th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, was a deliberate ploy by the BJP. This they say was aimed at heightening sentiments, potentially influencing the electorate, especially in parts of Amritsar and Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha seats within the Majha region.

In the Malwa region, encompassing constituencies such as Bathinda, Patiala, Sangrur, and others, the contest was said to fierce.

The Doaba region, also known as the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) belt, houses two Lok Sabha seats, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur, both reserved.

Here, various deras, big and small, became stages for political posturing, with candidates from all parties seeking blessings and votes through visits. The SC community holds 39 percent of the votes in Jalandhar, constituting the largest voting bloc.

Leading political analyst Professor Kuldip Singh had suggested that "there is a keen contest between Congress and AAP in Punjab, with the former having a slight edge. Though there's anti-incumbency against the AAP government, it's expected to perform relatively well. As for the BJP, I don't foresee a significant impact, and while the Akali Dal may improve its vote percentage, it still has a long way to recover its lost ground."

"The AAP may not have delivered as promised, but the previous government's performance was worse. Even then, the contest failed to inspire hope among voters, as parties skirted the state's issues, reducing political rhetoric," he added.

The results will be important for the two-year-old AAP government in Punjab that focused its campaign on free power (300 units of electricity), development, and employment generation. The party had relied on heavyweight candidates, including five sitting state cabinet ministers, to secure victory.

For the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), it's a matter of survival, with 2024 being the first time in over two decades that the SAD and BJP are contesting elections independently.

The BJP's performance in these elections will determine its standing in the state, having fielded 11 turncoats among its 13 candidates, notably Preneet Kaur from Patiala, Ravneet Singh Bittu from Ludhiana, and Sushil Kumar Rinku from Jalandhar.

The Congress, on the other hand, is hoping that fielding senior leaders in key constituencies will pay dividends. Their party president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring fought from Ludhiana, former CM Charanjit Singh Channi from Jalandhar, ex-Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa from Gurdaspur, former MP Vijay Inder Singla from Anandpur Sahib and sitting MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira from Sangrur. The Congress also fielded sitting MPs from Amritsar and Fatehgarh Sahib.

The prominent independents, including pro-Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh from Khadoor Sahib and Sarajeet Singh, son of Beant Singh who assassinated former PM Indira Gandhi, alongside gangster-turned-social activist Lakhvir Singh alias Lakha Sidhana of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), add another layer of complexity to the electoral landscape.

This election marks the absence of former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu from the campaign trail.

In a recent letter to the people of Punjab, 82-year-old Amarinder, who is now with the BJP. urged voters to cast their ballot in favour of his party, emphasising the importance election for the state's future prosperity.

A total of 2,14,61,739 voters, including 1,01,74,240 women and 773 transgenders, were eligible to vote across Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2019 polls, Congress won eight seats, SAD secured two, BJP won two, and AAP clinched one seat.

Himachal Pradesh

In neighboring Himachal Pradesh, the BJP again faced a bruising contest.

A largely silent electorate kept political parties guessing about their fate on the four Lok Sabha seats of Hamirpur, Kangra, Mandi, and Shimla.

The campaigning was notably vitriolic and aggressive in the hill state, with personal barbs being exchanged, particularly in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat, which garnered disproportionate attention after the BJP fielded Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut and the Congress nominated the Royal scion Vikramaditya Singh.

The BJP attempted to bring forth emotive issues such as the Ram temple and the abrogation of Article 370, along with alleging minority appeasement by the Congress. However, these issues probably did not resonate with the public on the ground.

Kangana Ranaut (R) and Vikramaditya Singh are in the fight for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. The result there will be among the most keenly watched on June 4.
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But the saffron party remained confident of winning all four Lok Sabha seats, aiming to repeat its 2014 and 2019 performance.

On the other hand, the Congress appeared confident of winning at least two seats, with the contest appearing to be close for the Mandi and Shimla parliamentary constituencies.

The grand old party is also hoping to win at least four of the six assembly seats, alongside the by-polls, which will help consolidate its government.

Criticism against the BJP government at the Centre included perceptions of insufficient flood relief and financial support, compounded by the Centre's reluctance to declare the disaster a national calamity.

The Agniveer scheme, which aims to recruit youth for four-year service with only 25 percent of them retained in regular service, became a significant poll issue, especially in Hamirpur, Kangra, and parts of Mandi and Bilaspur districts, which contribute significantly to the armed forces.

During an election meeting in Himachal, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the BJP government, alleging that the scheme turned soldiers into laborers.

In addition to the direct contest between the BJP and Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party is also contesting all four seats.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, Harish Thakur, a leading political expert, predicted, "In the Lok Sabha polls in the state, the BJP is likely to sweep all four seats, but that said there may be a close call on the Shimla and Mandi Lok Sabha seats. Meanwhile, in the by-elections to six assembly seats, the saffron party and Congress may have a close contest, with both parties potentially securing 50 percent of the seats."

"Modi was the dominant factor in the previous two parliament elections, swinging the victory in favor of his party candidates, but this time issues like Agniveer, unemployment, and price rise are very much in the mix," added another political analyst.

There are a total of 29,13,050 male voters, 27,98,850 women voters, and 35 third-gender voters in the state. Polling will take place at 7,992 stations across the state, with some located in very remote areas.

Haryana

In Haryana, political winds seem to be blowing against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that registered a clean sweep in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state.

The Congress sought to capitalise on the anger among Jats, farmers' protests, inflation, and unemployment. Conversely, the BJP hoped for a split in opposition votes between the Congress, Jannayak Janta Party, and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

The saffron party, which won all Lok Sabha seats in the last parliamentary polls, faced a tough task this time around. Both the BJP and JJP leaders have come under attack from farmers' organisations.

The BJP played the OBC card, aiming for non-Jat votes in the parliamentary elections. It had replaced Manohar Lal Khattar as Chief Minister with Nayab Singh Saini, an OBC leader, considering that the state has 8 percent OBC voters.

The party will be hoping that Jat votes are divided between the Congress, JJP, and INLD, potentially benefiting them. However, this strategy will be put to the test in these Lok Sabha polls, particularly in garnering non-Jat and urban votes.

The saffron party also aimed to gain votes by highlighting the development works of the central and state governments, while emphasising transparency and good governance in Haryana.

Kangana Ranaut (R) and Vikramaditya Singh are in the fight for the Mandi Lok Sabha seat. The result there will be among the most keenly watched on June 4.
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In contrast, the Congress banked on anti-incumbency sentiments against the BJP government, particularly fuelled by high rates of unemployment and inflation.

Leading political analyst Professor Ashutosh Kumar of Punjab University said, "The main contest is between BJP and Congress, as the others like JJP and INLD will not significantly influence the final outcome. It's a bipolar contest."

The saffron party was the first to announce its ten candidates in the state. In these elections, the Congress entered into an alliance with AAP for the first time, with the grand old party contesting nine out of ten seats while AAP will fight from Kurukshetra.

Notable candidates included Abhay Chautala of INLD, fighting from the Kurukshetra parliamentary seat against Sushil Gupta of AAP, and Naveen Jindal, who ran on the BJP ticket after joining the party some time back. The electoral landscape also featured prominent candidates such as former Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Deepender Hooda of Congress.

Riding high on the Modi wave, the BJP had secured an impressive vote percentage of 58 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, while the Congress could only manage about 28 percent of the votes, drawing a blank. June 4 will reveal if the massive gap has shrunk.

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