Punjab: Limited role is pushing conventional parties to political hibernation

By Prabhjot Singh*

Pushed to the edge  and left with limited  role both in  the state and  at the Centre,  majority of political powers of yesteryears have been forced into a political hibernation.

Ruing the rise of  Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the new ruling outfit, the conventional power brokers in this border State of Punjab – Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and Bhartiya Janta Party – are finding themselves pushed to the edge.

They have virtually become mute spectators to the political developments that have been unfolding since the new regime of Bhagwant Singh Mann took over reins of the State in March.

After taking all five Rajya Sabha seats in March, AAP is all set to take the remaining two seats, elections to which are scheduled for June 10 with May 31 as the last date for nominations. None of the other parties – Congress, SAD or BJP – will have any say in the process that for the first time in recent decades will witness a complete wash out by the ruling party in the State.

While both Congress and BJP are making meek and feeble efforts of evincing interest in the bye election to Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, silence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is intriguing. 

The Election Commission has  announced the schedule for filling three Lok Sabha seats –  Sangrur, Rampur and Azamgarh –  that are presently vacant. 

The bye-elections will be held on June 23 and results will be announced on June 26. June 6 will be the last date for filing of nominations.

Besides ruling AAP, other parties, too, have to announce their candidates for the June 23 bye-election. Bhagwant Mann’s sister has already been campaigning in the area. She avoided answering if she would be interested in contesting. “Party will decide, she quipped.

Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s Sanyukat Shiromani Akali Dal may be interested in contesting the bye-election by fielding Parmnder Singh Dhindsa, who  along with former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, were among the losers in the last Assembly elections

The Rajya Sabha Elections for 57 seats, including two from Punjab will be held on June 10, 2022.

Of these 57 seats , 11 are from Uttar Pradesh,  followed by Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu with  six seats each.

Other States where the Rajya Sabha election will be held are Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Haryana.

Sangrur Lok Sabha seat fell vacant in March after the incumbent  Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was elected to the State Assembly from Dhuri. 

Political analysts are expecting the Election Commission to announce the schedule for filling all three vacant Lok Sabha seats in time for the Presidential election in July this year.

The ECI is expected to announce the Election schedule for the 16th Presidential Election  in June as  the tenure of the present incumbent  Ram Nath Kovind is till  July 24. The new incumbent is mandated take over  on July 25. 

Again, the role of Punjab politicians in the Presidential election will mainly veer around AAP while Congress, SAD and BJP with small or little presence in the State Legislature or Parliament presence will have their limited roles.

Never before Punjab witnessed such a political scenario with three of major players pushed to the edge.

After their humiliating defeats in the February Assembly elections, problems have been aggravating for almost all the conventional parties.

Congress, for example, has been going through its worst phase.

The party continues to be tormented by exits of its senior leaders. After the former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sunil Jakhar said good bye to the party, former Union Ministers, Ashwini Kumar and Kapil Sibal have also left the party. They both represented Punjab.

Navjot Singh Sidhu, who followed Sunil Jakhar as President of the Punjab unit has been sentenced to undergo one year rigorous imprisonment in an old case. 

On the eve of the Assembly elections early this year, Congress lost its high profile Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who later floated his own party Punjab Lok Congress. Close on heels of his exit from Congress, two other MLAs – Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi and Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa – too left the party and joined BJP. Now Sunil Jakhar, too, had joined BJP.

Shiromani Akali Dal is understandingly lying low after its worst ever drubbing in any election. It recently lost its veteran leader Tota Singh.

While one of its breakaway groups, Sanyukat Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (His term as member of Rajya Sabha ended in April this year), objected to its alliance partner BJP going out alone electioneering in Sangrur for ensuing bye-election, SAD has been watching the developments silently. Even the third partner of the alliance, Punjab Lok Congress, has till now not shown any inclination in contesting the Sangrur bye election. BJP has put on job Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi to assess the atmosphere in the constituency before taking a final decision.

Weakened or marginalised Opposition notwithstanding, the ruling AAP is not without its problems.

Dismissal of the Health Minister, Dr Vijay Singla, by the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, on corruption charges is not without its widespread ramifications. The public perception and image that the AAP government is “honest, clean and sincere” has suffered image set back. 

Dr Vijay Singla incidentally happened to be the first ever Cabinet Minister from Mansa. He had defeated popular folk singer Sidhu Moosewala in the Assembly elections.

Several senior AAP legislators are continuing to lobby for their induction in the Bhagwant Mann Cabinet.

Besides Cabinet expansion, the party has to choose its nominees for the two Rajya Sabha seats and also for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat.This is an opportunity for correcting the impression that Delhi would decide about Punjab representation in the upper House of Parliament.

It is time for Bhagwant Mann to act on his own  than emulating what Delhi had done before or wants to be done now.

* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered  Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com  or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye