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The real WINNER in Punjab will be...

By Aditi Phadnis
January 06, 2022 07:18 IST
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The biggest winner will be the BJP -- which has such a small presence that every incremental vote it gets can only increase its strength.
But the man who will win despite losing everything will be Capt Amarinder Singh, predicts Aditi Phadnis.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
 

Amarinder Singh is now a supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Does it even matter?

Yes, it does.

The first time he quit the Lok Sabha and the Congress was in 1984, when the army entered the Golden Temple. He got the news of Operation Bluestar when he was playing golf near Shimla.

He asked his colleagues in the Congress to accompany him to meet Indira Gandhi in New Delhi and tell her how disturbed they all were.

They cried off, citing one excuse or another (one said her child had diarrhoea) and finally Mr Singh went with just one aide.

Indira Gandhi was not happy. Rajiv Gandhi called him later to pacify him.

He was unmoved. 'Guru Gobind Singh had sent my ancestors a hukumnama [a letter of command to preserve the religion]. There was no way that I could turn back from my decision,' he told his biographer, Khushwant Singh.

But while the move was an emotional one, it was also politically astute.

The second time he resigned from the Lok Sabha was in 2016 against the Supreme Court order on the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal, which, Mr Singh said, would deprive Punjab farmers of their legitimate right to water.

Whether it did or not, the resignation made eminent political sense.

He had defeated Arun Jaitley from the Amritsar constituency and come to the Lok Sabha.

The assembly elections were due in Punjab in 2017 and if the Shiromani Akali Dal was to be ousted, only he could do it.

And he did! Trading a Lok Sabha seat for chief ministership in Punjab.

Now the very party that helped him become chief minister has announced he is no longer part of it.

Let's leave the lament aside. Is Mr Singh going to help the BJP? Or is the BJP going to help him?

His party, the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), has a tie-up with the BJP.

Of the 117 seats in the assembly, the BJP is going to contest 70.

On the rest, one assumes, there will be some kind of adjustment with the PLC.

But there are problems. Captain Singh's personal influence is limited to the Patiala-Sangrur belt of the east Malwa region.

The BJP is a marginal player in the state with only a segment of the Hindus in urban areas voting for it.

You can judge this from the fact that it has not contested almost 90 assembly seats ever in the past 30 years.

The BJP is trying to grow. Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, one of Mr Singh's right hand men, joined the BJP recently, as did Manjinder Sirsa, who crossed over from the Shiromani Akali Dal.

But leaders defecting from other parties cannot replace organisation.

The hottest topic in Punjab right now is the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and the alleged lynching of the man who is supposed to have carried out the act.

While the BJP was quick to demand from the Congress government in the state a response on the desecration of Hindu and Sikh places of worship in Pakistan, it has remained strangely quiet on the punishment that should be meted out to those who had insulted the holy book in India -- and those who lynched the man who did it.

There is some uncertainty about how the party is going to approach the farm law repeal issue: Captain Singh will likely walk away with the credit for that.

The other big actor in Punjab is the Aam Aadmi Party. AAP's presence is largely in the Malwa region, which accounts for 69 of the 117 seats.

The party is struggling to expand itself in Majha (25 seats) and Doaba (23 seats). It has found a catch in Kunwar Vijay Pratap, former inspector general of police who investigated a major desecration case and took premature retirement from service to join AAP.

But Arvind Kejriwal has announced that if it wins, the chief minister will be a Sikh.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, the biggest loser in the politics of the state will be the Akali Dal, which is being battered from all sides: It has lost its place in central politics and in state politics, and has no friends.

The biggest winner will be the BJP -- which has such a small presence that every incremental vote it gets can only increase its strength.

But the man who will win despite losing everything will be Captain Amarinder Singh.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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Aditi Phadnis
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