Punjab Elections: All that you wanted to know

It may not be tussle between Congress and SAD any more

Prabhjot Singh

Punjab has been one of those states that has not only won against two-decade long terror-driver turbulence but also for its reiteration and trust in strong democratic norms. After partition of the country in 1947, Congress domination in State politics continued till 1966. Since then, Punjab has been witnessing a fierce tussle for power between a national party — Congress — and a regional party — Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). 

This time, the State may have a new political party or alliance at the helm of affairs.  Both Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress have witnessed groups of senior leaders walking out to form their own outfits. Punjab Lok Congress is the off shoot of Congress while Samyukat Akali Dal is the breakaway group of Shiromani Akali Dal. 

In the last elections in 2017, the new entrant, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), after its roaring success in Delhi, managed to push the SAD-BJP alliance to third position by winning 20 seats.

Among new entrants are the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Semaj Party alliance, Bhartiya Janata Party-Punjab Lok Congress-Samyukat Akali Dal alliance and Samyukat Samaj Morcha (Balbir Singh Rajewal).

Incidentally, SAD had always enjoyed the support of Bhartiya Janata Party, a major national party, as its alliance partner. In 2021, this oldest alliance crumbled after the Union Government passed the three Farm Laws.

The Congress and the SAD, as two major political opponents, have been ruling the state alternately since reorganization of the State on November 1, 1966. Their rules have been punctuated with spells of varying periods of President’s rule. These Presidential intervention on recommendation of the Governor were either because of political uncertainty or because of terrorism that engulfed the state for over two decades since late 1979.

It was because of terrorism that State also witnessed major boycott of the electoral process, first in 1985 when certain wings of the Akalis stayed away and then in 1992 when the mainstream Akali Dal boycotted the elections. In between in 1991 when Chandrasekhar was Prime Minister and elections were called to restore democracy in the State, Congress decided to stay away. Intriguingly, a day before polling was to be held in the State, elections were called off as at the Centre Congress had come back to power and minority government of Chandrasekhar bowed out.

Akalis had protested the last-minute cancellation maintaining that more than 30 candidates had fallen to the bullets of terrorists while reposing their faith in democracy. Subsequently when elections were called again in February 1992, Akalis led by Parkash Singh Badal, boycotted. Only a fraction of Akalis led by Amarinder Singh contested on 58 of 117 seats and won on three.

BJP, the traditional alliance partner of Akalis, however, participated in the 1992 elections though without much of success. Even its Hindu card at that time did not work.

While the Congress has enjoyed seven full-term governments — those of 1952, 1957, 1962, 1972, 1992, 2002 and 2017. The Shiromani Akali Dal that made history in 1997 by becoming the first non-Congress party to complete its first full term in office since Independence, has repeated its 1997 feat in 2007 and 2012.

The only time Punjab electors did not give any party or alliance a clear mandate was the 1967 election, the first after the reorganization of the State. Congress got only 48 in a house of 104.

It was during this time that the Akalis had their first tryst with power by getting the entire Opposition united to form the United Front government. It was the first multi-party coalition government in the State.  In 1985, after signing of the Rajiv-Longowal accord, Akalis graduated to absolute power, winning 73 of the 100 Vidhan Sabha seats they contested. 

In the 1997 elections, they took this supremacy for power a step further by improving their individual tally to 75 out of 92 seats contested by them. 

-To be concluded

Punjab Elections -2

Religion and Punjab politics

Religion has always played a major role in Punjab politics

Looking back, when elections were called in Punjab in 1946, the Muslim League emerged as a major political force. The British had been successful in deliberately communalizing the political scenario, which, unfortunately, has remained unchanged even after 76 years. The British had cleverly defined Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh seats. The Congress, the second largest party in pre-Partition Punjab, had 51 legislators, of which 40 were Hindus, 10 Sikhs and one Muslim. Still, it was clearly accepted as a secular party. 

Akali Dal was started as a political wing of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). It has since then, despite vain attempts by the Congress to create a dent there, dominated the SGPC better known as Parliament of Sikhs

It continued to enjoy this status in Punjab till the 1984 developments. Operation Bluestar, the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots were the developments that alienated this party largely from the Sikhs. 

In the 1946 elections, the Akalis had won 22 Sikh seats. The Unionist Party, which rose above communal and religious lines, won 20 seats. 

After Partition, it was the Congress which emerged as the single largest party. Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava became the first Congress Chief Minister of Punjab. After an initial love-hate relationship with the Congress, the Akalis merged with the ruling party. The Congress, though divided into Bhargava and Sachar groups, saw Mr. Bhim Sen Sachar replacing Dr Bhargava as the Chief Minister in April 1949. 

The first General Election in Punjab was held in 1952, wherein the Congress swept to power by winning 122 of 186 seats by polling 34.8 per cent votes. The Akalis were the next with 33 seats by getting 14.7 per cent votes. 

In the 1957 elections, the Congress-Akali combine won 120 seats, including 28 won by the Akalis. A year later, when the Akalis started the Punjabi Suba Morcha, it asked all its 28 MLAs to come out of the government. Only seven came to revive political autonomy of the Dal. 

The first test for the Akalis came in the 1962 elections when they sought the people’s verdict with Punjabi Suba as the main issue. Of the 42 seats contested by them, they won 19. The Jan Sangh won eight seats against 90 won by the Congress for its third successive government in the state. 

The Dal could not stay together as it was divided into Sant Fateh Singh and Master Tara Singh groups. As the demand for Punjabi Suba gained support, the state was brought under President’s rule after Mr. Ram Krishan, the then Chief Minister, quit on June 22, 1966. 

He was the third and last Hindu Chief Minister of Punjab. After a gap of 55 years, the demand for a Hindu Chief Minister has come up again as the name of the former chief of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, Mr. Sunil Jakhar, emerged on the scene. This demand prompted Shiromani Akali Dal to commit that if it forms the new government in 2022, it will have a Hindu Deputy Chief Minister.

The Union Government announced the creation of a unilingual Punjabi state by carving out Hindi speaking areas and formed a new state of Haryana, besides declaring Chandigarh as a Union Territory and making it the joint capital. 

The 1966 reorganization was a watershed in Punjab politics. It not only introduced the politics of coalitions but also blunted the supremacy of the Congress in state politics. 

It was only after 1966 that continuity of Congress as a ruling party was broken. Though, it remains a main player in the State, its once ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, has since then, remained its major opponent.

-To be concluded

Punjab Elections-3

Mild fluctuations in share of national and regional parties 

Prabhjot Singh

A careful analysis of the election results since 1967 would reveal that the percentage of votes polled by national parties, mainly the Congress, except for 1977 and 1997, has been more than 50. 

In 1967, for example, when Punjab had its first coalition government — the United Front — the Congress had polled 36.56 per cent of the total votes against 26.47 per cent votes polled by all state parties. The overall votes polled by national parties, including the Congress, Jana Sangh, CPI, CPM, Praja Socialist Party and Swatantra Party — was 56.60. 

In 1969, the share of national parties rose to 58.34 per cent, with the Congress increasing its share to 39.18 per cent while the state parties accounted for only 30.44 per cent of the votes. In 1972, when the Congress returned to power in the State, the share of the national parties increased slightly to 58.77 per cent while those of state parties dropped to 28.73 per cent. The Congress had taken its poll percentage to 42.84, which had been surpassed only twice afterwards, first in 1980 when the Congress got 45.19 per cent of the total votes polled and again in 1992 when it got 43.71 per cent votes. 

The 1992 election was exceptional in the history of Punjab. The mainstream Shiromani Akali Dal boycotted the elections. A faction of the Dal, led by the then rebel Akali leader, Capt Amarinder Singh, contested 58 seats and won only three. This was the only occasion when the percentage of votes dropped to 23.82, the lowest ever. The other lowest being 64.33 in 1980. 

The share of national parties dropped to 40.29 per cent, the only time below 50 per cent, in 1997 when besides 26.59 per cent of the votes secured by the Congress, all the national parties, including the BJP, CPI and CPM had aggregated 40.29 per cent. 

The most distinguishing aspect of Punjab politics has been that the Akalis, even at times securing clear majority, have been aligning themselves with the Jana Sangh/Bhartiya Janata Party. This combination alienated both Sikh and Hindu votes from the once powerful Congress. 

The emergence of the Bahujan Semaj Party in the 1992 elections saw this political outfit of the downtrodden getting 16.32 per cent of the valid votes polled which in the 1992 elections was more than three times than that secured by the Akali Dal led by Capt Amarinder Singh. Interestingly, the BSP had bagged nine seats against three by the Akalis. 

The BSP, however, failed to maintain its tempo and in the 1997 elections, after witnessing a vertical split-leading to the formation of the Bahujan Semaj Morcha headed by Mr. Satnam Singh Kainth — saw its share of vote coming down to 7.48 per cent of the total valid votes and its share in the Vidhan Sabha dropping to one. 

The electorate in Punjab have known to participate in the process enthusiastically, averaging more than 64 per cent in all the previous elections held in the State so far. 

Till date, the Shiromani Akali Dal has never crossed the 40 per cent barrier. Its best performance was in 1985 when it got 38.01 per cent of the total valid votes. In 1997, this percentage dropped slightly to 37.64. 

Besides the Congress and the Akali Dal, other main players in Punjab politics have been Jana Sangh/BJP, CPI, CPM and briefly the Janata Party, which in the 1977 elections polled 14.99 per cent votes to win 25 seats out of 41 candidates put up by it. 

The Communists — the CPI and the CPM — put together had been aggregating about 9 to 10 per cent of the total valid votes polled till 1997. The exceptions were the 1967 and 1969 election when they polled less than 8 per cent but since 1972, they have been averaging 9 per cent and above. In the 1967 elections they polled 8.46 per cent votes, 7.91 per cent in 1969, 9.77 per cent in 1972 and 9.60 per cent in 1977 winning eight, six, 11 and 15 seats collectively, respectively. 

In 1980, they crossed the double figure mark, aggregating 10.52 per cent to win 14 seats — nine by the CPI and five by the CPM. Since then, their share, both in percentage of valid votes and seats in the Vidhan Sabha, has been dropping as in the 1997 elections, they got only 4.77 per cent of total valid votes with two seats in the Vidhan Sabha. In the last Vidhan Sabha, the Communists went unrepresented. During the first term of Capt Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister, both the Communist legislators, defected and joined Congress. Since then, the Communists had been drawing a blank in Vidhan Sabha elections.

-To be concluded

Punjab Election Statistics

At a glance

Year                  Votes Polled                  Seats won         Total seats

                           %                         Cong         SAD       AAP           

1952                  55.3                           96         13                        126

1957                  58.0                          120         x                         154

1962                  65.5                           90         19                        154

1967                  71.2                           48         x                          104

1969                  72.2                           38         43                        104

1972                  69.3                           66         24                        104

1977                  65.4                           17         58                        117

1980                  64.3                           63         37         x              117

1985                  67.5                           32         73         x              117

1992                  23.8                           87         02         x              117

1997                  68.7                           14         75         x              117

2002                  65.0                           62         41         x              117

2007                  75.36                         44         48         x              117

2012                  78.30                         46               68             x                  117

2017                   77.20                          77               15*           20               117

*Alliance partner BJP won 3 to make it 18.