It is fascinating to see that the short term fate of Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party is intertwined in Punjab, India.
Out of the five states that have gone to polls recently, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are likely to deeply influence the national politics.
The election-bound Goa, Manipur, UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand have 690 assembly seats and 115 Lok Sabha seats but Uttar Pradesh’s 403 seats and Punjab’s 117 seats fate will affect the national politics.
Going by the micro and macro developments within UP and Punjab, it seems India is set for period of political turbulence till the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
There are four possible scenarios here among other possibilities:
1) What if the Congress loses Punjab? 2) What if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) wins Punjab handsomely? 3) What if BJP loses UP? 4) What if BJP retains power in UP?
UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats so obviously it’s the most important of five states going to polls but what’s happening in Punjab which has 13 Lok Sabha seats is intriguing.
If the Congress loses Punjab, the party will implode within, and the Nehru-Gandhi family will be compelled to fight a no-holds-barred battle of survival. The Congress rebel group, G-23, will also get reactivated after 10 March results.
More importantly, the Congress would lose bargaining power in any post-election opposition politics.
Right now, most analysts believe that there is “protest vote” in Punjab and people want to get rid of the tried and tested Congress and Akali Dal.
The rise of AAP
There is a kind of political demand from the voters to provide decent services — be it hospitals, schools, and civic services without corruption. That’s at the heart of AAP’s rise in the state. Not to forget that in Punjab — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity ratings are low and haven’t helped his party’s electoral fortune at all. It’s an added advantage to the newcomer AAP.
Arvind Kejriwal is bush-shirt wearing politician who enjoys an image of a non-corrupt common man.
For such a leader to capture the imagination of voters of the culturally rich, religiously important state is a political turning point. It will be a stunning ground-breaking success even if AAP emerges as a single largest party but short of a simple majority.
Punjabi food habits, dress sense and music are influencing the mainstream India. Imagine how huge must be these boisterous peoples’ accumulated frustration that they are rejecting the parties that have a long history of religion-laced politics.
Since the birth of Punjab in 1966 religious importance of Sikhism has been at the heart of state politics. AAP win will change this fundamental of politics.
In such a unique state AAP’s emergence is a stunning proof of churning happening in India. AAP’s founder and leader Arvind Kejriwal has built up his goodwill by running urban civic services efficiently in New Delhi and by handsomely defeating BJP twice — against all odds. In case AAP wins Punjab, it will be continually at loggerheads with the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Kejriwal has never had a full state under him. But, with politically live-wire state of Punjab, adjacent to Delhi, under his rule, he can nudge Modi and BJP on daily basis.
Kejriwal-style politics will, also, reflect in other states, including Gujarat.
On one hand a victorious Kejriwal will hit Mamata’s prospects and position in the anti-BJP front and also, hurt Congress in the BJP ruled states.
BJP’s standard rule book
However, Congressmen have a hope of retaining the state as the voting percentages have been lower than expected and also, they expect “vote transfer” from other parties who want to stop AAP coming from power.
For the BJP “nuisance value” of Kejriwal directed against it is less worrying than the default advantage of having Congress as its main rival in a general election.
If Congress loses Punjab and Uttarakhand and fails to win even 10 seats in UP, then Sharad Pawar, Mamata Bannerji, M.K. Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray, Left parties, Tejaswi Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav may come together to ensure Congress is cut to size.
If Congress isn’t leading the anti-BJP force of the united opposition, it will be difficult for the BJP to continue with their standard rule book of the Saffron politics and Hindu-identity base political campaigns. Because, once the regional forces get energised, every Lok Sabha seat will acquire its own agenda and caste-based fights.
Mayawati of UP, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of Orissa and CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh may not join the anti-BJP front before 2024 election but, after 10, March there will be fast-paced developments if Congress loses Punjab and performs unimpressively elsewhere.
In UP, while there is no strong wave, it is clear that a bipolar contest is taking place between SP and BJP. Both sides are giving a tough fight on each seat with BJP having an edge in Purvanchal. But it is very visible that the BJP is nervous and is walking on a tight rope.
If BJP loses Uttar Pradesh, Congress and rest of the opposition can rejoice as it will give them a huge psychological advantage. In the long term it will make their fight more difficult with the BJP raising the Hindu identity politics to a new level.
Also, it will force the ruling party to rethink on delivery and lacunae in deliverables.
If the BJP wins UP, then it is likely to be haughtier in its pursuit of power and will soon turn to Maharashtra and other states where it is weakened or weakening or in the Southern states which aren’t traditionally BJP states.
Post script: In the event of Congress winning Punjab and BJP winning UP, the Saffron party would feel more secure for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.