Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Punjab
The Jalandhar parliamentary constituency of Punjab underwent a by-election on 10 May, 2023, due to the sad and untimely demise of its incumbent Member of Parliament (MP), Shri Santokh Chaudhary. The result was declared on 13 May. It was a tough contest between the main parties and was won by the candidate of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Sushil Kumar Rinku, who is a recent turncoat from the Congress to AAP.
The common thought is that AAP blatantly misused its position as the ruling party to pressurise voters. The narrative that was spread quite openly by all AAP led by its convenor, Arvind Kejriwal, that getting work done from the state government would become difficult for all Sarpanches and other ground level leaders if they did not ensure a vote for the ruling party.
The point was driven home aggressively on 8th May and 9th May when campaigning had stopped and leaders of all other parties had left Jalandhar as per the election rules. Many parties complained against AAP for this gross violation, but by then the ruling party had attained its objective. The Sarpanches and other leaders would have thought, and logically so, that it would serve no purpose to lose the goodwill of the ruling party for a short period of nine months till the parliamentary election comes up and the constituency goes up for elections again.
The BJP fielded a strong candidate, Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal, who belongs to a well liked political family. The party put its collective might behind its candidate. As an election agenda, the party highlighted the growing levels of corruption and mis-governance under the ruling party and also spoke of the advantages that can accrue to the constituency, in terms of implementation of central schemes, with its MP being from the party in power in the centre.
Even though the BJP came fourth in the over-all result, it registered many positives. Overall the vote share of the party went up by four percent while that of all other parties went down. The party had a clear majority in two Vidhan Sabha segments of the constituency, Jalandhar( West) and Jalandhar (Centre) with a large number of votes of SAD-BSP combine witnessing a transfer to the BJP.
The Jalandhar constituency has been with the Congress party since 2014 with the deceased Santokh Chaudhary having won in 2014 and 2019. The Congress attempted to ride a sympathy wave by fielding Karamjit Chaudhary, the wife of Late Santokh Chaudhary as a candidate. The party, however, was defeated due to its inability to usher any tangible development in the two terms that it held the seat and more so during the time when it was running the state government and representing the constituency as well.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) went into the election while grappling with the sad demise of its patriarch Sardar Prakash Singh Badal. It attempted to garner sympathy, but the voters were unmoved in their rejection. The people are not happy with the manner in which the Panthic agenda and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) are being leveraged for self seeking politics of a single family.
The future for BJP lies in an accurate reading of the lessons that have emerged from the election and in carrying out a rapid and dynamic course correction. Clearly, the Sangathan (organisation) of the party has, as yet, not evolved to the desired degree in the semi-rural/rural areas and small towns of the state. The new joined members who were big faces in their previous organisations have to work harder to catch the pulse of the people as members of the BJP; they have to create their distinct cadre to add to the strength of the party.
Prime Minister Marendra Modi interacting with eminent members of the Sikh community
The state, being heavily under debt, and dependent economically upon a debilitating wheat-rice agriculture cycle is surviving only due to support of the Union Government. Such support has been forthcoming without any political considerations ever since the BJP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has formed a government in the centre.
The BJP led Union Government has, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, taken many initiatives for Punjab and specifically the Sikh community, mainly, opening of the Kartarpur corridor; waiver of GST from the Gurdwara Langar items; nationwide celebration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh and 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur and declaration of 26 December as Vir Bal Diwas to pay homage to the courage and martyrdom of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
The Union Government has also taken affirmative action to bring emotional closure to the wounds perpetrated on the Sikh community during the period of militancy and the genocide of 1984, post the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India. Opening of the cases against perpetrators of the genocide has resulted in many being charged and punished. A few days back, the CBI has charge-sheeted Jagdish Tytler, a Congress leader for long alleged to be the biggest mastermind behind the killings in Delhi.
The Government gave a commitment in 2019 to release from prison such Sikhs who had been interned for a period nearing two decades because of their involvement in militancy. Nine such Sikhs have since been released.
312 Sikhs living in foreign countries who had been blacklisted and barred from travelling to India for alleged association with the Khalistan movement between 1980s and 1990s have been removed from the blacklist and given permission to visit their country of origin.
The common people of Punjab, especially the farmers, look upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a very powerful leader who has declared and demonstrated love and respect for Punjab and its people. They are thankful for the sensitivity shown by him towards the issues that have troubled them since long. These initiatives, however, do not address the existential crisis that they are facing in present times due to an exodus like migration, environmental degradation, debt ridden economy, drug addiction, deteriorating law and order etc. They look upon the prime minister to give them respite in these problems that are ruining them, their families and their homeland.
To put it succinctly, the people of Punjab respect Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but, their problems are so huge and the AAP leadership so inept that they want him to connect with them forcefully and directly and somehow get them out of the morass. They know that only Modi Ji can do what is required and they want him to do it beyond electoral political considerations. They look towards the prime minister for a lot more than what has been done earlier and what is being done by the centre presently, since they know that he has the capacity and the power to do so.
Naturally, the prime minister will require a dynamic local leadership to support him while he launches such a project to save Punjab, especially rural Punjab. The leadership will need to generate the capability, transparency, energy, motivation and will to work selflessly in the required direction. The final point is. “it is not enough to be working, one has to be seen to be working.” This establishes the need for a vibrant media and information structure. The need is to not only to work but also assure the people that the Government of India and the nation are sensitive to their problems and are reaching out to the maximum extent possible to resolve them.
The election is unlikely to make any impact at the national level and will be valid for less than a year. Its importance, however, lies in the fact that it is a testing ground for the public mood and will impact the forthcoming parliamentary elections. In this political test, the BJP has emerged as a big winner. The party has established deep roots and is working towards creating a strong bond with the people. Naturally, the process will take time since it was ignored for more than two decades due to implicit faith in SAD as a coalition partner. The bottom line is – If Punjab prospers, BJP will prosper in Punjab.
(Jaibans Singh is advisor to the National Minority Commission; a reputed journalist and author)