Who Will Win Punjab?

Past record shows that the outcome of the Municipal Corporation elections in Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab, has no impact on the Assembly elections which follow a little later in the state.

This time, however, there is an important takeaway from the Corporation elections held a couple of months before the Assembly elections in Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerged as the largest party for the first time in any elections outside Delhi. The party, which is making a determined attempt to wrest power in Punjab, has received a major boost with its cadres gaining confidence that it can win elections outside the national capital.

Another important factor in the Corporation elections was the multiplicity of contests. Besides the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, the AAP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, a large number of independents in the fray had made it a multi-cornered contest with comparatively small number of electors in each ward. In at least five wards the margin of victory was only in double digits.

The coming elections in Punjab too are set to be multi-cornered contests with the emergence of the alliance between Capt Amarinder Singh and BJP, the SAD-BSP alliance, the Congress, the AAP and now also the Kisan Samaj Morcha formed by farmers’ organisations, besides the independents. The current possibility of five-cornered contests would definitely leave the field wide open with various parties eating into each other’s vote banks and making the task of predicting the outcome a near impossibility.

It is in this context that an analysis of the past electoral trends would be significant and relevant to the ensuing elections.

For over three decades, the state had witnessed a straight contest between the SAD and the Congress. This changed last time when the AAP entered the fray and changed the political equations. Several electoral surveys had predicted an AAP victory given the disenchantment with the other two political parties.

The Congress emerged victorious with a thumping majority of 77 seats out of a total of 117 at stake thanks to a large extent to the division of votes in the three-cornered contest. SAD won 15 seats (besides three by its alliance partner BJP) against the tally of 20 for the AAP and two for its alliance partner. But what’s significant is that the SAD finished second in no less than 43 seats while AAP finished second only in 26 seats. Akalis got lesser number of seats than AAP but received more votes.

ALSO READ: Farm Laws – Winners, Losers And The Future

SAD got 25.3 per cent of the total votes polled as against AAP’s 23.8 per cent. Add to that the 5.4 per cent votes polled by the then SAD’s alliance partner, the BJP. They together polled 37 per cent votes against 38.5 per cent by Congress. Akalis contested on 94 seats compared to 112 by AAP and still got 1.5 per cent higher vote share than AAP. Same is true for Congress. Both in 2007 and 2012 when it lost elections to the SAD-BJP combine, Congress posted a vote share of over 40 per cent.

It is in this context that the pre-poll scenario needs to be analysed with five-cornered contests on the anvil. The ruling Congress, which rocked its own boat by changing the chief minister just six months before the elections, is facing an internal crisis. Its unpredictable state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu continues to take pot-shots at the party’s own government and chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi.

In the given short time the new chief minister is coming out with a flurry of announcements which lack credibility while some of the sitting legislators are quitting the party anticipating denial of tickets. Even as the 56-member election committee supposed to send its recommendations to the party high command for final selection of candidates is yet to meet, Sidhu has been declaring candidates for some of the seats. The party is also yet to develop a strategy for the elections.

SAD, which had quit the coalition with BJP over the farm laws, has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose vote share has been less than two per cent even though one third of the state’s voters belong to the Dalit Samaj. However, Akalis are by far the first movers.

Party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has been actively leading the party and besides the alliance with the BSP, has already declared candidates for the ensuing elections. It is also attempting to woo back its core constituency of rural votes by touting that it has quit the coalition and power to stand behind the farmers. The party is not facing any major hostility from farmers now and its fate would depend on how rural voters view its role in the aftermath of the farm laws which were subsequently withdrawn.

AAP, which had built up a strong cadre before the last elections, lost some ground with several leaders quitting the party and the state unit of the party remaining disoriented over the last four years. It has received a fillip after the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections but continues to remain under the direct charge of its central leaders. It’s biggest failing has been a lack of a credible chief ministerial face. With just over a month left for the elections, the party chief Arvind Kejriwal has decided to maintain silence over the issue although he has declared that the candidate would be a Sikh from Punjab. This effectively ruled himself out of the race as was being apprehended last time.

The new entrant to the political scenario, the Kisan Samaj Party, might turn out to be the X factor in the coming elections. About 22 of the farmers organisations have joined hands to form the party but at least 10 others have decided to stay away. On its own, the new party is unlikely to make a serious dent but it can change the calculations if it decides to tie up with one of the major parties. And if it happens with AAP, which has a strong presence in urban areas, it would be a strong alliance to be reckoned with.

Even as the model code of conduct is to come into force any day now and schedule is to be announced for elections next month, the political situation remains fluid with new alignments in the making and finalisation of party tickets setting the tone for the elections.

Weekly Update: Biden Weaponises McDonald’s; UP Double Engine Slow Start; Punjab Politics Gets Crowdier

As Russia surrounds Ukraine with over 150,000 troops, heavy weapons, missiles on standby and jets revving up, Ukraine’s ally, the United States of America has sent a threatening message to Putin. ‘We will withdraw McDonalds!’ or something like that. Biden has threatened sanctions that will be the mother of all trade sanctions according to him. ‘Ya have seen nothn yet.’ So Biden retorted in barely audible decibels as if he didn’t mean it. If he does mean it then it must mean pulling back even McDonalds from Russia along with a few other things, such as helicopters and car parts.

The US imports a lot of oil and some platinum and bit of vodka from Russia among other things. Biden says he will stop importing these. Can this war be averted by threatening to stop McDonalds or similar things? Trade between Russia and USA is not eye popping anyway. In 2019 it was a mere $10.9 Billion exports to Russia whereas Russia exported $24 Billion of stuff to USA.

Russia already has huge foreign exchange reserves twice that of USA! It has 30% of world’s natural resources. And most of its trade is to neighbouring countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, Kazakhstan etc. If it takes over large part of Ukraine, then that trade will be part of its domestic economy.

It’s difficult to see Putin having nightmares over United States threat on sanctions. Out of $551 Billion Russian annual exports, a loss of $24 billion seems miniscule. Ukraine will have to fight its own war. As usual, USA eternal friendship is finitely tied to its interests. Just as it ditched the Afghan democratic government which was relying on USA to protect it against Taliban, it is likely to dump Ukraine’s Zelensky when Putin sends the first tanks into Ukraine.

Sanctions will also mean that USA will force its allies such as EU and Britain to stop trading with Russia. The EU is a different story. As a block, EU is Russia’s largest trading partner exporting some $107 Billion worth goods to EU and importing about $88 Billion worth goods from EU. Sanctions will hit Russia and Putin may have to think hard.

But not so hard. A lot of import by EU is petroleum which is $75 billion worth, about 70% of imports. Rest is mainly minerals. It is difficult to see how EU is going to replace this amount of oil and gas. Germany has understandably long been reluctant to impose sanction on Russia as it relies heavily on petroleum from Russia.

If EU imposes sanctions, the price of oil will sky rocket, throwing many EU economies into possible recession. Just recovering from Covid lockdowns, the impact on European countries will be devastating as they import petroleum products from elsewhere. It will hit rest of world too.

Wily old Global Britain has already said it will not send forces if Russia attacks Ukraine. Little Englanders know they don’t stand a chance if Russia nukes Britain in anger and the current Brexit economy of Global Britain can’t afford another war, especially if Big Uncle Sam doesn’t relish sending any forces to aid Ukraine.

Putin has of course calculated all this. From his position, Ukraine has been a thorn in its security. Ukraine wants to join EU thus aiding its expansion to the borders of Russia. Ukraine could also give United States military bases. Russia has already compared this to the Cuba crises that faced USA in 1962 when the Soviet was planning to install missiles in Cuba on the doorsteps of United States.

Trouble with the West is that it has demonised Russia under Putin in its media and made a number of threatening statements warning Putin not to advance into Ukraine. This rhetoric could get in the way of finding a peaceful solution to the standoff between Russia and Ukraine although they, the West, have also been saying that sending forces against Russia is out of the question!

It should dawn on Ukraine that it is in the same position as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which fell to the Taliban and has become the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan when USA decided it had enough of the friendship with Afghan democracy.

Although high level meetings to avoid war are between Putin and Biden, it will ultimately be up to Ukraine to either accept its fate peacefully or under force. Putin is neither bluffing nor eager for war. His terms for avoiding war are on the table. If Ukraine understands its position, it will let the West know that it will not join EU and will not invite US to set up bases in Ukraine. If not, then Putin is likely to unleash his forces and colossal firepower and take a significant part of Ukraine.

Unless of course Putin decides that he cannot do without a Big Mc in which case Biden’s threat of sanctions as retaliation for any war on Ukraine might just miraculously work. On the other hand, capitalist McDonalds may decide that it doesn’t want to forego profits in Russia and may call its burgers ‘Putin Burgers’ to get around sanctions. These wars are becoming multifaceted and complicated these days.

Double Engine But Slow To Start

Scurrying to save the BJP in Uttar Pradesh (UP) after retreat from farmers, PM Modiji has been trying his persuasive powers to win voters back to BJP. Farmer leader Tikait has dented the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest number of MPs in the Centre. Currently, UP is under BJP ruled by the monk Yogi Adityanath with a mixture of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu revivalism.

‘Double engine Government’ said Modiji, is good for UP and everybody. By double engine he means, BJP government in UP and BJP government at the national level. Modiji laid the foundation of a ₹36,250 crore Ganga Expressway which will be the longest in the state. One stone has been laid. When it will have the last stone is another matter. Characteristically he even threw in a soundbite. UP + Yogi = UPYOGI. Only in Hindi it is flattering.

Not impressed, Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Shrimati Mayawati said, “Now near election the double engine government, meaning after 10 years, the Ganga Expressway has been announced and that also in two phases” Laelo ji double engine.

Equally unimpressed, the Samajwadi Party leader, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted, “Hathras’ daughter, Lakhimpur farmers, Gorakhpur traders, unsafe women, unemployed youth, daily and backwards all are saying the present government is ‘unupyogi (useless)’ than up-yogi.”

Punjab’s Politics Gets Crowdier

Already with more political parties than districts in Punjab, the over-crowded political space of Punjab has been joined by yet another new party. Fresh from their victory, a group of farm leaders under Gurnam Singh Charuni, has announced the setting up of Sanyukt Sangharsh Party. Their agenda, ‘To clean Punjab politics!’

There are many things Punjabis can do, including forcing one of the most powerful political parties in modern India to take back laws. But cleaning Punjab politics is a task that even God may shy from attempting. Nevertheless, Gurnam Singh is going to take on this more than Herculean task by fighting all Vidhan Sabha seats and bringing in Left ideology. MSP for all, fresh from Kisan Morcha.

Maybe the impossible might be achieved, politics will become cleaner and Punjabis will stop migrating to Canada at the creak of an open door and find jobs at home instead. There are more IELT classes than jobs in Punjab these days. These could be replaced by more job opportunities. Singhu border comes to Punjab.

Weekly Update: Punjab, Lotharios & Politicians; Global Britain Single Focus

Punjab’s politics seems to be like the last days of the Sikh Raj in 1840s. But more than that, it seems Pollywood has taken over politics and made it into an entertainment, splashing a different twist every day on the media. Some of the politicians appear to be political Lotharios looking for Sugar Daddys, bed hopping political parties like the changing mix of papri chaat. Some politicians are even threatening to form new types of Political Papri Chaat.

It all started with the Badals, the most promiscuous of ideological bed-hoppers. Senior Badal raised issues of Sikhs, then went against them, detaining hundreds if not thousands. He then became Indian nationalist and made the party ‘secular’. He then tied nuptials with the BJP, gathering substantive Punjabi Hindu vote. He then decided to make this historic party into a family enterprise, casting away other powerful and serious Akali leaders and promoting his son for the succession.

Instead of demanding resolution of Sikh issues such as release of long held political prisoners etc, he demanded a berth for his family at the BJP Cabinet. He then divorced the BJP as it became a liability. The father-son duo realised BJP was toxic after farmers rose against farm laws. Badals are now desperately seeking a link up with any party, such as Bahujan Samaj etc. The Akali Dal is now an unrecognisable party. What does it stand for? What is its political ideology except to protect the Badal family? They have their own TV channel to boast of ‘what they will do’ that they were not able to do in the long reign of Badals before.

It seems Punjabis have decided politicians are always acting. So why not put in professional actors. There is Navjot Sidhu, Deep Sidhu and now Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu (Moosewala). It seems the Sidhu clan have taken over entertainment from traditional marasis. All these three have provided endless entertainment off stage and on stage, in politics and in entertainment media.

Moosewalla played to the Khalistani sentiments, exploiting Bhindranwale and secessionist desires in his songs. He has now joined Congress, the party that in power attacked Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) and killed thousands of Sikhs. In Punjab politics, such hoola hoops raise no eyebrows.

In fact, Navjot Sidhu himself has been like a ‘Bhambiri’ (spinning top) on a string. It seems whereever the pull of political gravity is heavy, he falls onto that side with a hundred explanations on why he did that to save the Punjab (from itself). After retiring from serious cricket, he became a clownish entertainer. He joined the BJP, then the Congress. The two parties that have no common political ideology. Only in Punjab can one be a secularist and Hindutva-wadi within a period of 24 hours and still have integrity. Punjabis have no concept of political ideology any more. Politics is entertainment. Sidhu apparently even considered joining Akalis at one time as well but senior Badal had already decided on the succession.

Deep Sidhu of the Khalistani flag at Lal Qila fame is another entertainer. Delivering speeches best suited to an emotional Sikh nationalist drama documentary, Deep decided to be the bull in a China shop during the very well organised peaceful march in Delhi by farmers protesting against farm laws. The world was awestruck at the size of the march and more importantly that it was peaceful. Most of the protestors were and are Sikhs. The Image of Sikhs as peaceful marchers was going down in the annals of history. World opinion had started swinging in favour of the farmers. The BJP government was worried.

Deep Sidhu did the spoiler as many suspect. He fired a group of youth. A breakaway section who put the Sikh religious flag, Nishan Sahib, on a historic seat of power turned museum building called Lal Qila. Violence happened and turned the media hostile. Hundreds of thousands of peaceful farmers had to struggle peacefully for another eight months to get repeal of the farm laws.

Why Lal Qila? It was the throne of the Mughals. Sikh General Baghel Singh had successfully taken over the Mughal seat of power in 1783 for a short time and installed the Sikh flag there. Now Lal Qila is a museum. Anyone can hire it for a day and put any flag there, family flag, corporate flag, Tik Tok flag, even a Sikh flag during the day of hire. It doesn’t need a mock siege. Just hire the building from the Dalmias.

The Govt of India hires it for Republic Day etc and puts its flags all over. Why Indian media made the Deep Sidhu episode into ‘attack on Indian sovereignty’ is another of those hilarious Indian politics cum entertainment dramas. It would have been an episode worthy of Baghel Singh’s courage had Deep Sidhu himself gone and put the Sikh flag on Rashtarpati Bhavan (Presidential Palace). That is where the seat of power in India is now. But Sikh courage now lives bravely on the celluloid and Tik Tok reality, so a flag at Lal Qila can be turned into the most heroic episode for a Sikh generation groomed on virtual reality. Consequently, Deep Sidhu is in the running now for some sort of leadership but looking for a home.

There is of course Amarinder Singh. Captain Sahib, Maharajah Sahib, Leader Sahib who knows. He hails from the great Maharajah family of Patiala who gave their formidable army over to India in return for being Maharajah forever only to find that Indira Gandhi asset-stripped him and made him a commoner after buying him out with some peanuts. So much for political acumen in the family. Captain-Maharajah-Neta Amarinder Singh found that politics can be entertaining. He was first elected under Congress in 1980, then resigned after Operation Bluestar, then joined Akalis and then sensing he was to remain second in any succession, joined Congress again and became the CM. He has now left Congress and threatening to form a new party. Rumours are that he is now in bed with BJP.

And there can be so much written about Bhagwant Maan of AAP. It could take pages.

Is there an ideological gap between Akalis, Congress, AAP and BJP? Not in Punjab which is ideologically rudderless. Party hopping is so common, no one in Punjab probably knows what any of the parties stand for. They all promise swarg (heaven).

There is now a melee of politician-entertainers in Punjab. In fact the whole Punjab politics has become one great entertainment industry. It is difficult to know who is a political Lothario and who is a serious politician. Perhaps, Punjab is showing, politics does not matter. It is all razzmatazz after all. Today here and tomorrow there. Secular one day, Khalistani another day and then Hindutva-wadi the third day. It’s just actors mugging up for a part.

Global Britain’s Focussed Foreign Policy

It used to be Pakistan that was famously mocked for a single focus foreign policy. It was Kashmir, Kashmir and Kashmir. Pakistan Foreign Policy has become more diverse now with Afghanistan and China among other interests. Where Pakistan left, it is Global Britain that is filling the vacuum of one focussed Foreign Policy. Its obsession is France.

It seems the bumble bee Prime Minister of Global Britain, Boris Johnson gets up every morning and dreams up ideas on how to ‘piss off the French’. Brexit Britain hasn’t quite turned into Rule Britannia as he had promised. So why not rally the nationalists against the oldest enemy on tap, France.

There is more coverage of spats with France in British media than any serious Foreign Policy. To get the French colourful language retched up a bit, Boris proposed in full social media glare that he send troops to France to ‘jointly’ guard against all those illegal boat people crossing over into Global Britain. This would be akin to India offering to send troops into Pakistan to stop insurgency crossing over into Jammu Kashmir.

Of course, Macron (France) had a few ‘curses’ to utter against Global Boris in private. In public he banned the British Home Minister from a meeting. British commentators called it ‘over reaction’ without adding ‘over reaction to a clown’.

More ‘illegal’ migrants have been invading the Global Britain shores since on boats. Meanwhile Boris who plays Laurel (from Laurel and Hardy) in real life with even scratching his hair and head, is dreaming of another shot at the French. What an end to an inglorious Empire and its once renown diplomatic corps.

‘Sidhu Has Harmed His Party, He Is A Bad Team Leader’

Dr Bhojdev Brar (22) from Amritsar says celebrities do not always make good politicians and all the good work by Navjot Singh Sidhu was undone by his image politics

Punjab politics is going through such confusing times, I wonder how things will shape up in the next few months when Punjab Assembly elections are held. I belong to Amritsar, the constituency of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is slowly turning out to be one of the most divisive figures of Punjab politics.

I feel he is eyeing the Chief Minister’s seat in the strategic state as in these important times (because of farmer protests). But the way he is going about it doesn’t seem very well thought out. He seems temperamental, hasty in decision making and someone who doesn’t think too well before taking a step. Soon after he resigned, another minister from the Charanpreet Singh Channi cabinet, Razia Sultana, Punjab Congress General Secretary Yoginder Dhingra and party treasurer Gulzar Inder Chahal also resigned from the party. This then becomes more about a person and less about the interests of the party.

I don’t think image politics can influence the electorate deeply if there is no weight behind their words. These celebrities or personalities cannot just bank on their image or previous charisma to get votes, they need to keep interacting with the people who voted for them and upgrade their understanding. There are so many celebrities who are good at what they do, but aren’t able to walk the long road in politics.

Metro Man, Mr E Sreedharan can be considered an example. Sidhu has walked a longer and more active road than most other celebs (17 years in active politics), but I feel he still doesn’t know the art of walking in unison with others, he still considers himself above the party.

Dr Brar with farmer leader Rakesh Tikait (left) and with Dr Swaiman Singh (extreme right in green), a New Jersey-based cardiologist who came to India to support farmers protesting agaisnt Central farm laws

And in times like these, especially in the post-Covid world, we need compassionate, considerate and calm leaders; leaders who have the capacity to listen to people’s concerns as much as they can speak. Covid has shown us how each leader is important right from the ward level to the Prime Minister level and we can’t be lax with who we choose to power.

Sidhu has done some good work in Amritsar like building road, strengthening the metro bus service, but he should also look into important matters like reducing corruption at all levels, strengthening the administrative machinery and easing governance in general so that people find it easy to approach the government on important matters.

ALSO READ: Comedy Of Errors: Capt On Congress Crisis

Moreover, I feel surprised why doesn’t he stand secure in his own identity? Why is trying to pit himself as an alternative to Captain Amarinder Singh? He should focus more on what is being and not being done in his own constituency rather than galloping off to Patiala, the constituency of Captain Singh.

If many people say that Captain Singh is growing old, then the ex-Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh led the country efficiently even at an advanced age, an Sidhu is probably showing the folly of youth. Punjab needs leaders who are cool, calm, composed and yet not afraid to take the lead, if the situation so demands.

I am keeping a keen eye on the news developments and in these times of social media boom, celebs image can fall down as quickly as they can be built. So people should be careful about each step in politics. They should aim at serving the public and not their image.

‘Dalit Representation In Politics Will Bring Social Change’

Swarn Singh, 47, a Ramdasia Sikh farmer in Ropar, Punjab, says the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as Chief Minister will help alleviate discrimination faced by lower castes in the state

Punjab has the highest Dalit population among all the states in the country. Therefore, the fact that Charanjit Singh Channi was chosen as the Chief Minister means so much more than a symbolic appointment. Even though it came as a surprise, I feel Channi’s appointment will bring about major changes to the mindscape of Punjab.

It was a Dalit, Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who gave us the Constitution, and it is sad that Dalits have remained at the bottom of the pyramid, because they have little political representation. We are Ramdasia Sikhs and wanted to share that one of the biggest Dalit leaders Kanshi Ram Ji was a clean-shaven Ramdasia Sikh and he gave a strong voice to the Dalit identity.

Over the years Dalits have also begun to understand the importance of being interested in politics. We keep an eye on the news and ensure that we are not caught unawares. When the SC/ST Atrocities Act was amended in 2018, it felt like a watering down, a dilution of the overt and covert discriminations against Dalits.

However, later it was reversed the same year, and again in 2020 some changes were made. In a 2020 judgement, a three-judge bench observed that all insults or intimidations to a person will not be an offence under the Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.

Swarn Singh says appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi (right) as Punjab CM brings hope to Dalits in the state

Channi Ji is a very educated man and I believe his ways will be different than many other leaders. And I believe his appointment will make Dalits more assertive over issues such as laws or directives that concern us. I would call it a strategic step in these times, as farmers everywhere and particularly in Punjab are restless and hopeful for their voices to be heard. You must realise that one’s caste matters when it comes to how much land one holds. Thus, the current CM’s appointment might bring major changes into people’s lives. I hope he will uphold the values and principles laid down by Baba Saheb Ambedkar.

Even though Gurudwaras are considered open to all, because the Gurus talked about everyone being equal in Sikhism, there is a subtle discrimination which prevails at the holy places too. One doesn’t feel fully accepted when a devotee is seen through the lens of caste. I myself haven’t faced overt discrimination, but I have seen others face it. Sikhism says: Sab Manas ek jaat, but people still discriminate because of deep-rooted, subconscious social prejudices. I hope that will change too.

ALSO READ: ‘Dalits Face Caste Bigotry Early In Life’

I am a farmer and live in a joint family of 25 members. So far we have been holding out fine with the land we own and the business my brother runs. But with the new farm laws we don’t know what the future holds for us. At such a time we are hopeful that Channi Ji’s appointment will safeguard our social and financial interests.

The pandemic has done a lot to remove discrimination, I would say. People have begun seeing other people as humans and not just as someone belonging to a particular caste or religion. It is a good change that has happened, the coming together of people’s hearts and the falling away of prejudices, even if only a little. However, it is sad that many people lost their lives to the virus. But I hope Channi Ji will ensure that love and brotherhood gets strengthened in these times and will work hard towards social equality.