Chandigarh: The Narendra Modi government’s decision to roll back the three contentious farm laws is likely to have an impact on the poll dynamics of Punjab, with the Amarinder-BJP tie-up hoping to benefit the most.
Amarinder, who resigned from the Congress earlier this month, had announced that he is ready to form a pre-poll alliance with the BJP if the saffron party resolves the farmer agitation.
Now, with the farm laws out of the way, the BJP is hoping to emerge as another option for voters, with the help of Amarinder. Apart from the ruling Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BSP alliance are in the race for power in the state, which goes to polls early next year.
Here is a lowdown on how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Friday announcement could impact the poll prospects of various political players.
With the repeal announcement on the day of Gurupurab, Modi has tried to bring the BJP out of the woods in the state. The party is now expected to take credit for undoing a “mistake” and deciding to bow down before the farmers as it aims to woo the Sikhs who form the majority vote bank in Punjab.
Tarun Chugh, BJP’s national general secretary from Punjab, in a statement Friday said the “Prime Minister had demonstrated exceptional magnanimity in repealing the three agriculture laws in view of prolonged protest by a section of farmers”.
Farmers had made it almost impossible for BJP leaders to campaign or even hold meetings with their workers in the state. While Friday’s announcement will bring a sigh of relief for BJP leaders, an electoral victory on their own steam is still difficult, if not impossible, for the party, which has never been a major political player in Punjab.
Last year, the SAD, one of the BJP’s oldest allies, broke ties with the party over the farm laws.
As an ally of the SAD, the BJP had contested 23 seats in the 117-seat assembly and three of the 13 parliamentary seats. The saffron party’s hold in Punjab is limited to urban and semi-urban areas and districts like Pathankot, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur, where Hindu voters dominate.
The BJP’s vote share in Punjab has always been less than 10 per cent. It was only in the 2004 parliamentary polls that the party’s vote share increased to 10.5 per cent. In the 2012 assembly polls, the party got 7.18 per cent votes. In 2017, it went down to 5.4 per cent. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP secured 8.7 per cent of the total votes.
Even though the BJP wants PM Modi to be seen as a “friend” of the Sikhs, the party lacks prominent leaders in the state.
The BJP appears inclined towards an alliance, and the former CM has held two meetings with home minister Amit Shah since his resignation as CM. On Friday, Amarinder thanked the BJP’s top leadership for repealing the farm laws.
Great news! Thankful to PM @narendramodi ji for acceding to the demands of every punjabi & repealing the 3 black laws on the pious occasion of #GuruNanakJayanti. I am sure the central govt will continue to work in tandem for the development of Kisani! #NoFarmers_NoFood @AmitShah
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) November 19, 2021
On 2 November, Amarinder also announced the creation of a new party — Punjab Lok Congress. However, not many of his colleagues from the Congress have jumped onto Amarinder’s bandwagon.
Amarinder’s stand against farm laws and his support for the farmers even when he was the chief minister gives him an edge in rural areas. Since he has also been constantly talking about security concerns in Punjab, his appeal among the Hindu voters in the urban areas is expected to be high.
The Amarinder-BJP combine could help garner urban Hindu votes.
“The Amarinder-BJP tie-up will be able to pull in some of the Hindu vote in Punjab,” said Dr Pramod Kumar of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh.
Amarinder is also hoping to bring several disgruntled Congress, AAP and Akali leaders into his party’s fold in the coming days.
Sources in the Amarinder camp said the exodus from the Congress will begin after the list of candidates is released as several sitting MLAs and even ministers could be among those who fail to get tickets.
In an interview with ThePrint last month, Amarinder had hinted that he wishes to have a political tie-up with farmer leaders as well. After the agitation is called off, Amarinder is expected to pull in some farmer leaders to contest elections.
The possible end of the agitation has dealt more than one blow to the ruling Congress, which can no longer criticise the Modi government over the issue of farm laws.
“The Amarinder-BJP alliance will prove to be a mega spoiler for the Congress because it takes away a slice from the vote share that the (Charanjit Singh) Channi government was wooing. Also, the major victory of the farmers will replace the religion-caste issues with real ones,” said Pramod Kumar.
“What the parties have to offer in terms of other pending farmers’ concerns, drugs, education and health will come to the forefront. The twin factors that the Congress was harping on — first Dalit chief minister and desecration — will go into the background,” he added.
The only political benefit they can possibly reap is by having some farmer leaders join the agitation ahead of the elections.
Meanwhile, Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi welcomed PM Modi’s decision to repeal the “three black laws”.
Much delayed but I welcome Centre's decision to repeal three black farm laws. A memorial will be constructed to honour the sacrifices of the farmers during the ‘Sangarsh’. I urge PM @narendramodi ji to make MSP a statutory right. 1/2
— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) November 19, 2021
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged as the second-largest party in the state on its 2017 Punjab assembly election debut, is expected to benefit as a large support group among the farmers were also AAP supporters. Sources said the party might also be able to find a CM candidate from among the farmer leaders.
Pramod Kumar, however, pointed out that the AAP is unlikely to create an impact in the poll-bound state. “Parties with little baggage also have little impact. The AAP has always misjudged Punjab as another Delhi where migratory population can be wooed with freebies. With the end of the agitation, the help and support that the protesters got from AAP remains just that. The voters would move on quickly to real issues, which is where AAP has nothing much to offer,” he said.
The repeal of farm laws can only come as a relief to the SAD-BSP combine, which too was finding it difficult to campaign across the state amid protests. The Akali Dal was being seen as a party that supported the BJP when the farm laws were being enacted.
“Now, the Akalis will be able to reclaim their cadre and reach out to them. Also, the end of the agitation brings all political parties on a single plane in one sense. Everyone is equally guilty of supporting the farm laws in some way or the other,” said Pramod Kumar.
“The Congress had it in its manifesto, the AAP notified these in Delhi, and the Akalis were part of the cabinet that approved it. Now, the focus will shift to what these parties promise to resolve the other serious issues farmers are dealing with in Punjab and what road map these parties give for the restructuring of agriculture in the state,” said Pramod Kumar.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)