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Punjab

One aspect of Punjab, which distinguishes it from all other states, is that it is the homeland of the Sikh people. Punjab is the only state where the Sikhs are in a majority. They constitute 1.7% of Indias population but about 58% of that of Punjab.

The Sikh chieftain Ranjit Singh (17801839) became the sovereign ruler of the Punjab in 1799. The independent sovereign state of Punjab that lasted for half a century was eventually annexed by the expanding British empire in 1849 and made a part of colonial India.

Sikhism as a religion was life-affirmative, renouncing renunciation', it frowned upon the caste system, inequality and untouchability. For our purposes, it is interesting to recall that Sikhism stressed collective action through sangat (congregation), and pangat (inter-dinning). Later kar-sewa was added, a feature of the religion that at one stroke did away with the taboo on working with hand and with a culture that excluded many classes of people from touching the plough and treated those who worked with hand as 'menial classes'. The opposition between manual and non-manual labor broke down.

Sikhism was the most comprehensive assault on the caste system. It was not as radical in its attempts at eradication of endogamy as attempted by the movement led by Basava in twelfth century in Karnataka. Sikhism was however more enduring with its repeated declaration of the values of social equality, abolition of untouchability, inter-dining and community living.

The key to capturing the political difference of Punjab lies in understanding the emergence and suppression of two movements in its contemporary history along with the consequences of the suppression of those movements. These two movements are: the Maoist Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and the Akali morcha (agitation) of the early 1980s. From the beginning of the 20th century, a distinctive and very influential left-wing tendency among the Punjabi Sikhs has drawn upon the armed struggle tradition among the Sikhs. A majority of the Punjabi youth that got attracted towards the Naxalite movement came from Sikh religious and cultural backgrounds. The Akali morcha focused on the protection of Punjabs river water rights and for other economic, political and religious demands, and the subsequent armed Sikh opposition movement against the Operation Blue Star army action at the Golden Temple in 1984.

A decade long Punjabi suba movement resulted in the 1966 creation of Punjab - the land of 5 rivers. The majority status for the Sikhs in Punjab took place only after the territorial reorganisation of Punjab on a linguistic basis on 1 November 1966. Since then the state has gone through a tumultuous political journey. Riding on the sympathy wave after 2 years of political instability, in 1969 Gurnam Singh led his Shiromani Akali Dal party, now rechristened as Akali Dal to a victory after gaining 43 seats.

In 1972 Congress won with a massive majority after years of instability. Chief Minister Zail Singh completed a full 5 year term, and later became the first Sikh president of India.

Competing under the banner of the Janata party, in 1977 the Akali Dal won a huge majority, reducing Congress to a meagre 17 seats in the now bigger 117 seat state assembly. This term would provide the foundations for fanaticism which would sweep Punjab. In 1987, the Congress Government in Delhi dismissed the state government in Punjab, as it was believed they were appeasing the militants. The next 5 years, saw militancy spiral out of control, and Punjab experienced direct President control.

Almost 2 decades of militant movements had taken a huge toll on Punjab. By 2000 parties agreed to stress on the Punjabi identity, as opposed to the Sikh identity. Parliamentary and assembly elections since 1996 continued to reflect a shift in the electoral politics of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) - politico-economic issues replaced ethno-religious ones. Also discernible was the shift from an anti-center stand to cooperative federalism and from a politics of confrontation to peace and Hindu-Sikh unity. However, it needed to adopt a new social profile moving beyond its image as a party of jat Sikhs and khatris.

In 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, Punjab voter turnout was 70.6 per cent with the BJP sweeping 10 seats while the Congress winning one.

Punjab had been plagued by a series of political killings since January 2016, many of which remained unexplained and unsolved. At least 10 attacks claimed the lives of 15 members of non-Sikh religious groups. and nine murders of right-wing, religious leaders took place during that same period. The the modus operandi were similar in all the cases of killings: assailants on motorcycles shooting at targets from close range.

By October the Punjab police believed that militancy was returning to the state. In 2017, police put out of action over 10 Khalistani modules and arrested nearly 50 persons on charges of trying to revive Khalistani militancy and planning attacks in various parts of the state. The Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) recruited young Sikhs for "anti-India activities".

Punjab's 2017 state assembly elections took place on 4 February 2017, with a re-poll in a few polling stations on 9 February. The Assembly elections in Punjab in early 2017 indicated a new phase in the electoral landscape of the state, largely dominated earlier by various political alliances headed by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) under Jat Sikh leadership. There are several good reasons why traditional SAD domination and style of leadership were being challenged through a combination of new political actors and, significantly, changing awareness among a very diverse electorate about what to expect from any government one elects.

Punjab's 2017 state assembly elections marked the end of a 10-year rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance. The Election Commission of India indicates that the Indian National Congress [also known as Congress] won Punjab's 2017 state assembly elections, with 77 out of 117 seats and 38.5 percent of the vote.

Despite huge organisational and political blunders, the Aam Aadmi Party was still a substantial player in Punjab's electoral politics. It does not have the organisational network that the Akali Dal has nor a popular leader such as the Congress' Amarinder Singh. However, its emergence in the state brought to the fore the issue of regional versus Delhi-centric control of party decisions and politics. It also did not help that Delhi-based leaders of the AAP talked down to the proud people of Punjab.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) arrived second in the 2017 state assembly elections by taking 20 seats out of the 112 seats it contested, and winning 23.7 percent of the vote. The alliance between the SAD and the BJP won 18 seats and approximatively 30 percent of the vote, with 15 seats going to the SAD and 3 to the BJP.

From having two traditional power houses, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali DalBharatiya Janata Party combine, and a rookie Aam Aadmi Party on the threshold just before the 2014 general election, the electoral field in Punjab was widely scattered ahead of the 2019 polls. It is an interesting matrix, with different parties taking positions that at times overlap and elsewhere are diametrically opposed.

By April 2017, there were allegations that relatives of local Congress members of the legislative assembly led "power struggles" to control truck unions in Bathinda and Jalandhar. The political party in power eyes truck unions. Each truck union has its own territory and Congress supporters charged 'goonda [thug] tax' from each truck depending upon the load and issues a slip allowing it to pick up the load.

The SAD-BJP combine had seen a lot of turmoil in the last five years, and by 2019 was discredited. The alliance won six of the states 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 but was decimated in the 2017 assembly polls, with its tally coming down to a mere 18 from 66 in the election prior.

But more than the losses, the major concern to the SAD-BJP was how it failed to recover from these. The BJPs main support base of small traders shifted towards the Congress after the demonetisation initiative of the Narendra Modi led government at the center, and the shoddy implementation of the GST or goods and services tax regime.

The Akalis, who often claimed to be the true representatives of the Panth, were discredited after the many instances of desecration of holy texts, and the police firing on peaceful protestors in 2015 that led to two deaths. Former Akali chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was also the SAD president, were in hot soup following the indictment by the Justice (Retd.) Ranjit Singh Commission which probed the instances of sacrilege and the police firing. The father-son duo also granted an apology to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim for blasphemy in 2015 from the Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee. Following a public outcry this apology was later revoked.

The Aam Aadmi Party, a rookie force that stunned everyone by winning four of 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, promised to walk away with the 2017 assembly polls. But the problems started soon after, when two of its four MPs were placed under suspension for anti-party activities. Then came the sacking of AAPs Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur on flimsy grounds. Overambitious leaders, hobnobbing with Sikh hardliners abroad, and a lack of understanding between its units in Punjab and Delhi led to AAPs debacle in the assembly polls.

The Congress had been the most stable force in recent years, apart from the internal bickering that is seen as part of its culture. In 2016 two senior leaders, Bir Devinder Singh and Jagmeet Brar, were shown the door. On 19 Janaury 2019 the Congress suspended its MLA Kulbir Singh Zira from primary membership, for indiscipline. Zira had criticised the Amarinder Singh led Congress government for the alleged connivance of police with the drug mafia.

The national election was held in seven phases. It began on April 11 and concluded on May 19. Over 2,000 parties and 8,000 candidates are in contest for 543 seats. Punjab voted in the last phase of Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on 19 May 2019. Some of the prominent candidates include actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol, Union Minister and SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Congress leader Manish Tewari, former Punjab Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and AAP lawmaker Bhagwant Mann are among the prominent candidates. There are 13 seats in the state with prime parties being Congress, BJP, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AAP. According to leads at 5 pm on 23 May 2019, Congress was leading on eight seats and AAP on 1 seat. BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal were leading on the four seats.



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Page last modified: 12-05-2020 14:23:07 ZULU