Rebels of Congress-pur!

Like Gangs of Wasseypur kept fighting between themselves to grab power, the same is the case with political parties in Punjab. After the tickets have been denied to some prominent faces, they have decided to fight as independents. The rebels are from all the heavy-weights in Punjab, be it Congress or Shiromani Akali Dal or Aam Aadmi Party. But my focus (and many Punjabis will side me on this) is on the Congress, which is facing threat directly from 19 rebels. The issue of factionalism is even more important to be resolved as this was the second reason behind Congress’ defeat in 2012 State Assembly Elections, the first one being Manpreet Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) that took up the anti-incumbency vote-share. 15 rebels from Congress cut into its vote-share, thereby helping Akali Dal to win.

The number of rebels from these parties includes 19 from Congress, 5 from Akali Dal and 1 from AAP. All these rebels have decided to fight independently. One can imagine how badly these rebels can spoil the prospect of Congress coming to power in Punjab. Apart from these 19 independents, 5 rebels are fighting on tickets of other parties, prominent being Apna Punjab Party (APP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Reasons:

  1. The infighting increased, after about a dozen candidates from Akali Dal joined Congress.
  2. Amarinder Singh’s “One Family, One Ticket” formula.
  3. Been out of power for nearly 10 years and having a bright chance of making a comeback, many candidates wish to win in the anti-incumbency wave.

 

Successfully convinced:

Initially, the number of rebels was 30, but Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) was able to convince 11 and bring the number down to 19. Some of the prominent names include:

  1. The Congress heaved a sigh of relief as the Barnala family agreed to beat retreat. Harpeet Kaur Barnala, wife of Gaganjit Singh Barnala, withdrew her nomination as an Independent from the Dhuri She had filed her papers after Congress refused to give the seat to the Barnala family in favour of youth candidate Dalvir Singh Goldy.
  2. Rumal Chand from Bhoa
  3. Satinder Singh Chhajjalwaddi from Baba Bakala
  4. Gurpreet Kaur Gagowal and Gurpreet Vicky from Mansa
  5. Balwinder Singh Bittu from Amritsar (South)
  6. Mohinder Rinwa from Fazilka
  7. Gurmail Singh Pahelwan from Ludhiana (East)

Amarinder Singh promised the rebels to award them with chairman or president posts in various government trusts and organisations if Congress comes to power. He also thanked those who had heeded the party leadership’s request to withdraw their papers before the last day of filing nominations, saying it was now the party’s responsibility to take care of their interests. He said he would personally ensure that they are not let down on this count and are accommodated in key positions to take the Congress agenda of governance and development forward after the formation of its government in the state. Yet, it hasn’t yielded any effect on these 19 rebels.

Rebels:

  1. Surinder Mahey, former Jalandhar Mayor who is fighting against Sushil Rinku from Jalandhar (West)
  2. Gurbinder Singh Atwal, who is fighting against Jagbir Brar from Nakodar
  3. Hemraj Aggarwal, who is fighting against Rakesh Pandey from Ludhiana (North)
  4. Ashok Sharma, who is fighting against Amit Vij from Pathankot Sharma, who contested as an Independent in 2012, had polled more than 20,000 votes.
  5. Nimisha Mehta, a strong contender from Garhshankar and a protégé of CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi, is in fray against party nominee Luv Kumar Goldy.
  6. Naresh Puri, who is fighting against Amit Manto from Sujanpur constituency. He had also contested election as an independent candidate in 2012 and secured 27,000 votes.
  7. Tarlochan Singh Soond, who is fighting against Satnam Kainth from Banga He came into limelight after he hurled a shoe at Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
  8. Balwinder Singh Chaudhary, who is fighting against Rajkumar from Chabbewal constituency.
  9. Babbu Ghuman, who is fighting against Arun Dogra from Dasuya
  10. Jagmeet Singh Sahota, who is fighting against Kaka Randeep from Amloh
  11. Maninder Singh Palasaur, who is fighting against Inderbir Singh Bolaria from Amritsar (South)
  12. Sukhraj Singh Natt, is in the fray from Maur Mandi constituency, where he is contesting against Congress nominee Harminder Singh Jassi, who is relative of Sirsa-based religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
  13. Paramjit Kaur, who is fighting against Joginder Panjgrayi from Bhadaur
  14. Congress Zila Parishad member from Talwara, Paramjit Singh, will be contesting against party nominee and MLA Rajnish Babbi from Mukerian
  15. Rajinder Deepa, who is fighting against Daman Thind Bajwa from Sunam
  16. Sham Singh Makror, who is fighting against Rajinder Bhattal from Lehragaga
  17. Darshan Singh Sidhu, a former tehsildar, who is fighting against Ajaib Singh from Dirba
  18. Manjeet Singh Mann, who is fighting against Harjot from Moga constituency.
  19. Amarjeet Singh Gharu, who is fighting against Satkar Kaur from Ferozepur (Rural)

 

Present Scenario:

Urging the rebels to opt out in favour of the Congress nominees and put up a united front to defeat the “anti-people” SAD and AAP, Amarinder said the interests of Punjab and its people were supreme and could not be allowed to be compromised for personal gains. Hitting out at the rebels who refused to heed the party leadership’s request for withdrawal of nomination, despite the promise that they would be accommodated once the Congress forms government in the state, he said it amounted to violation of the party’s disciplinary ethics, which could not be permitted at any cost. Ruling out any “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) for them, Amarinder said he would ensure the trend of forgiveness is brought to an end.

Even after Capt. Amarinder Singh’s stern warning that disciplinary action will be taken against them, the rebels didn’t take back their nomination on the day of withdrawal. The party even suspended 7 of them to send a message, but this has not deterred their confidence to back-out.

Whether they will win or not, these rebels may spoil chances of Congress coming to power, repeating the scenario of 2012.

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Six Families that Control Punjab

In the state of five rivers, it is the six families that control the politics in the state. It is the Jats who dominate the political scene, and inter-clan marriages between these six families have ensured that no family is ever completely out of power. Apart from the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the rest have direct or indirect relations with these families – the Royals of Patiala, Badals of Muktsar, Majithias of Amritsar, Kairons of Tarn Taran, Brars of Sarai Naga and Manns of Sangrur have ruled over Punjab since Partition. Be it the government or the opposition, the power is volleyed between these six clans.

The Royals of Patiala

Beginning with the king of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh, who aligned himself with Congress after the kingdom was incorporated into the Union in 1948. The king was a descendant of Phulkian dynasty. His wife, Mohinder Kaur was a former Member of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. He has two sons, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Malvinder Singh. Malvinder Singh is less active in politics, while his brother, former Chief Minister of Punjab and President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, Capt. Amarinder Singh has been declared a Chief Minister candidate again by Congress.  Amarinder’s wife, Maharani Preneet Kaur is a former Minister of State in the External Affairs Ministry and former Member of Parliament from Patiala. Their son Raninder Singh is the president of National Rifle Association. He unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha election from Bathinda in 2009 and Assembly election from Samana in 2012. Their daughter Jayainder Kaur is married to a Delhi-based businessman, Gurpal Singh, who is a cousin of Bikramjit Majithia. Former External Affairs minister of India, K. Natwar Singh, from Congress is married to Amarinder’s elder sister, Heminder Kaur.

The Manns of Sangrur

Lt. Col. Joginder Singh Mann was a speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1967. His son, Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) supremo and former IPS Officer Simaranjit Singh Mann is brother-in-law of Capt. Amarinder Singh. The former Member of Parliament from Tarn Taran (1989) and Sangrur (1999) is married to Geetinder Kaur, who is sister of Maharani Preneet Kaur. Geetinder assists her husband Mann in managing his election campaign. Both Preneet Kaur and Geetinder Kaur, are daughters of former Principal Secretary of Punjab, Gyaan Singh Kahlon. Mann’s son, Emann Singh is also a politician.

The Brars of Sarai Naga

Jaswant Singh Kairon’s (member of Communist Party) daughter Gurbinder Kaur Rano married Harcharan Singh Brar, the rich young heir of Sarai Naga in Muktsar district and President of Punjab State Congress. HS Brar later became Punjab’s chief minister from the Congress for a brief period, following the assassination of Beant Singh in August 1995. The Brars had two children, Babli Brar and Kanwarjit Singh (Sunny Brar). While daughter Babli lost to Sukhbir Badal in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls in Faridkot, son Sunny Brar was elected MLA in 1977 and 2007. Sunny Brar’s wife, Karan Kaur and Harpriya Kaur are sisters. Harpriya Kaur is wife of Malvinder Singh, younger brother of Capt. Amarinder Singh.

The Kairons of Tarn Taran

Pratap Singh Kairon was a close associate of Nehru and United Punjab’s dynamic chief minister for eight years till 1964. He was first CM of Punjab from Congress. His brother was Jaswant Singh Kairon, thus making Gurbinder Kaur Rano, his niece. Pratap Singh Kairon’s two sons, Surinder and Gurinder were Congress leaders. Surinder Singh Kairon was also a Member of Parliament in 1991 from Congress. The Kairons were traditionally Congress till Surinder’s son and Pratap Singh Kairon’s grandson Adesh Pratap married into the Badal dynasty. Adesh is an MLA from SAD and the minister for food and supplies. He changed the family’s politics after he married Parkash Badal’s daughter, Parneet Kaur in 1982.

The Badals of Muktsar

Originally called Dhillon, the family changed their surname to Badal. The five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is the family patriarch. The Badals head the largest Sikh party: Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). He has two children, Sukhbir Singh and Parneet Kaur. While Parneet Kaur is married to Adesh Pratap Kairon of Kairon dynasty, Sukhbir Singh is married to Harsimrat Kaur of Majithia dynasty. Sukhbir Singh Badal is deputy Chief Minister and president of SAD. Parkash Singh Badal’s brothers have also enjoyed power because of him. His brothers; Gurdas Badal managed SAD’s election campaign in Lambi, Gidderbaha and Bathinda, Paramjit Singh Dhillon (Laali Badal) has been a member of Punjab Public Service Commission, Bhupinder Singh Dhillon remained Political Advisor to Chief Minister (1997-2002) and Hardeepinder Singh Dhillon has been a former Transport Minister in SAD government.

The Badal family witnessed their biggest fight, when Parkash Singh Badal handed over the reins of SAD to his son Sukhbir in 2010. His estranged cousin Manpreet Badal quit the party. Manpreet was the Chief Minister’s favourite nephew and son of Gurdas Badal. It was his uncle who inducted him into politics in 1995 on his return home from London University. Manpreet was the finance minister in the Badal government. But differences with his headstrong cousin Sukhbir (political pundits say that Manpreet considered himself to be the heir due to his popularity in the party while Sukhbir had been grooming himself to inherit his father’s mantle since the 1990s) forced him to quit and float his own party, Peoples’ Party of Punjab (PPP). He lost state legislative elections in 2012 and general elections in 2014. In 2016, Manpreet merged his party in Congress and is now contesting on Congress ticket and is touted to be the next finance minister, if Congress wins the elections.

Manpreet Badal is now preparing his son Arjun Badal to step into active politics.

The Majithias of Amritsar

The Badals have close filial ties with the descendants of Ranjit Singh’s ferocious Majithia generals. In 1991, Sukhbir Singh Badal strengthened his political clout by marrying Harsimrat Kaur, the granddaughter of Surjit Singh Majithia, who was India’s deputy defence minister in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in 1952. Harsimrat’s younger brother, Bikramjit Majithia is the president of the SAD youth wing and more importantly, Sukhbir’s most trusted aide. Bikramjit is also the Revenue Minister in SAD government. Surjit Singh’s son and father of Harsimrat-Bikramjit, Satyajit Majithia was owner of the rich Saraya Group and had business interests with Badals in sugar, liquor and aviation sector. This was how, a pro-Congress Majithia family turned Akalis. The Badal-Majithia alliance was a consolidation of both power and wealth.

Call it destiny or irony, history seems to repeat itself. In the 19th century Anglo-Sikh Wars, Patiala sided with the British against Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s forces. The king of Patiala, Ranjit Singh’s General’s descendants and an outsider’s forces are locking horns again in 2017. Punjab elections are merely a process of temporarily shifting the balance of power from one clan to the other.

Let us see, which clan wins this fight!

Dera Factor in Punjab Politics

Both Sikhism and Hinduism advocate the direction given by a Guru to reach the almighty. Sikhism is even a step ahead where it believes in existence of a Guru in the form of knowledge, compiled in Guru Granth Sahib ji, often regarded as the eleventh Guru. Sikhism forbids beliefs in a human guru, but this has not deterred sprouting up of Dera(s), which are a congregation of people across the state. How many these are real Gurus or those earning in name of religion; it is matter of one’s faith. But no one can refute the claim that among all the states in India, Punjab has the maximum number of Deras. People follow them; and since during elections, it is the people who are the king, the politicians and parties leave no stone unturned to seek their blessings.

Like many promise that our beloved politicians make during elections, seeking blessings of Dera heads is another farce that they commit. Because seeking their blessings means influencing a whole set of voters, who will readily vote for any candidate/party on a single command by their sect. There is no official figure, but going by the estimates, there are nearly 9000 small and big Deras in the region. Besides them, the Punjabis are influenced even by those in Haryana and Rajasthan. The Deras may claim that they do not directly take part in politics, yet indirectly they influence their follower’s choices. A look at some of these prominent names in Punjab:

MALWA REGION:

The prominent name that influences the politics of Malwa region (region beyond river Satluj) is Dera Sacha Sauda. Located in Sirsa district of Haryana, the sect has a considerable number of followers in Punjab. Their followers are in the districts of Patiala, Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot and Muktsar. Headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the Dera plays an active role in the politics of both Haryana and Punjab. He has been on the target of many religious Sikh organisations after his controversial sammelan in 2007, where he dressed up as Guru Gobind Singh ji. Tensions are up again the Malwa region after he has been granted mercy by SGPC-led Akal Takht. It will be important to see as to how the Dera will play the role in helping the candidates to win.

Besides this, others include Baba Mastram Jattana in Khamanon village (Ludhiana), Baba Rumi Sahib in Bhatinda and Dera Hansali in Fatehgarh Sahib. Sant Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale from Nirvair Khalsa Dal in Patiala also commands respect throughout the state.

DOABA REGION:

The Doaba region (region between rivers Beas and Satluj) have the maximum number of Deras. Covering the districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Phagwara and Kapurthala, the many Deras have their own set of followers. The prominent name is that of Dera Sachkhand Ballan. Headed by Sant Niranjan Dass, the Dera has its followers in Ravidassia community. Other Deras include Divya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan in Nurmahal, Baba Murad Shah in Nakodar and Dera Begowal in Kapurthala. Though they do not directly affect the winning of a party or candidates, still influence voters.

MAJHA REGION:

The biggest Dera in this region (region beyond river Beas) is Dera Radha Soami Beas. Headed by Baba Gurinder Singh, the Dera has always maintained its apolitical stand. But it has not stopped the top leadership to visit the Dera to seek blessings of the Dera chief. Damdami Taksal, headed by Harnaam Singh Dhumma is the main Dera among all the Taksali or the radical Deras. It is the same Dera which became the centre point of Khalistan movement, started by its then chief, Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in 1975. Besides this, the Namdhari and Nirankari sect of Sikhism also have a strong force in the form of their followers in districts of Amritsar, Pathankot and Gurdaspur. Though they may have some differences with regular Sikh organisations, yet they have stayed generally apolitical.

The biggest reason for rising number of Deras in Punjab is due to neglect of the lower castes among Sikhs and Hindus. Going by the number of followers, the biggest chunk is that of the Dalits. Neither have they been treated fairly by the governments nor has the power being shared with them equally. In the politics of Punjab dominated by the Jatt Sikhs, these communities are seen as a vote bank, which can be shifted in their favour by winning the trust of the Deras they believe in.

In 2017 Punjab Assembly elections, these Deras will play an important factor in tilting the scales in favour of a party or a candidate.

Babus Will Fight Too!

In the photograph, can you recognise who is with deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal? If your guess is General JJ Singh, former Indian Army Chief; then you are correct. He will be contesting against Capt. Amarinder Singh from Patiala Urban on SAD ticket.

As Punjab starts gearing up for the state Vidhan Sabha elections, the Babus (Bureaucrats) have also decided to make a foray in the run up to the State Assembly. While this is not new for the conventional parties of Indian National Congress (INC) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD); the recent one, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a bid to project its clean image has also decided to give tickets to various Administrative and Police Officers. Akali Dal has always been a front-runner when it comes to giving tickets to IAS-IPS-PCS officers, but this time the competition will increase with candidates of Congress and AAP. And it is not only the parties, but these Babus themselves take an active interest in getting a ticket for themselves or their family members.

2012 Vidhan Sabha Elections

  1. Darbara Singh Guru, IAS and former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, contested from constituency of Bhadaur (Reserved) on Akali Dal ticket but lost to Mohammed Sadique of Congress.
  2. Pargat Singh, Olympian and Director of Sports (Punjab), contested from constituency of Jalandhar Cantt. on Akali Dal ticket and won against Jagbir Singh Brar who had defected to Congress from Akali Dal.
  3. Paramdeep Singh Gill, IPS and former DGP, contested from constituency of Moga on Akali Dal ticket but lost to Joginder Pal Jain of Congress. Gill’s father, Nachhatar Singh was a Congress MLA from Moga before he was murdered allegedly by terrorists.
  4. Shiv Ram Kaler, IAS and former ADC Ludhiana (Additional Deputy Commissioner), contested from constituency of Jagraon (Reserved) on Akali Dal ticket and won against Ishar Singh of Congress.
  5. Malerkotla became the hot seat for bureaucrats of both the parties. While Akali Dal fielded Farzana Nissara Khatoon, wife of IPS and former-DGP (Prisons) Izhar Alam; Congress fielded Razia Sultana, wife of IPS and ADGP (Internal Vigilance) Mohammed Mustaffa. The two-time winner Razia, lost to first-timer Khatoon.
  6. Sukhwant Singh Sarao, retired-IAS and former ADC (Additional Deputy Commissioner), contested from constituency of Lehra on Akali Dal ticket but lost to Rajinder Kaur Bhattal of Congress.
  7. Amarjit Singh Sidhu, retired-IAS, contested from constituency of Talwandi Sabo on Akali Dal ticket but lost to Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu of Congress.
  8. Som Parkash, retired-IAS, contested from constituency of Phagwara (Reserved) on BJP ticket and won against Balbir Kumar Sodhi of Congress.

 

The parties trust them because of their experience in handling the Administration, Law and Order; and having a direct contact with the public. Most of them have a clean image and with their knowledge of Academics coupled with on-ground work, make them a suitable candidate for the parties. Most of them step into politics post-retirement for it gives them a chance to keep working for the society.

In 2017, the prominent faces are DS Guru, former principal secretary to the CM and TP Singh, son-in-law of Rajya Sabha MP SS Dhindsa.

2017 Vidhan Sabha Elections

  1. Akali Dal has trusted their former aide Darbara Singh Guru, retired-IAS officer, but this time from constituency of Bassi Pathana (Reserved) instead of Bhadaur.
  2. Shiv Ram Kaler, retired-IAS officer will contest from constituency of Nihal Singh Wala (Reserved) instead of Jagraon on Akali Dal ticket.
  3. Retired-IAS, Som Parkash, who successfully contested from constituency of Phagwara (Reserved) on BJP ticket, has been trusted again with a ticket from Phagwara.
  4. Runner-up in last election; Razia Sultana, wife of IPS and ADGP (Internal Vigilance) Mohammed Mustaffa; will contest election for the fourth time on the ticket of Congress, from the constituency of Malerkotla.
  5. Tejinder Pal Singh Sidhu, IAS and former DC Mohali (Deputy Commissioner), who is also son-in-law of Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa will contest on Akali Dal ticket from Mohali.
  6. Kuldeep Singh Vaid, IAS and former DC Moga (Deputy Commissioner) is fielded by Congress from Ludhiana’s Gill (Reserved) constituency.
  7. Amar Singh, former-IAS has been trusted by Congress to contest from Raikot (Reserved) seat.
  8. Kartar Singh Pehalwan; former-IPS, Rustom-e-Hind and winner of Arjuna Award in wrestling & Padam Shri, has been given a ticket by AAP to contest from Tarn Taran constituency.
  9. Ajaib Singh Bhatti, ex-PCS, who is a sitting-MLA of Congress, will contest elections from Malout (Reserved) constituency again.
  10. Sajjan Singh Cheema, ex-PPS, has been fielded from Sultanpur Lodhi constituency by AAP.
  11. Harbhajan Singh, ex-PCS, will contest elections on the ticket of AAP from Jandiala seat (Reserved).
  12. Aapna Punjab Party, floated by Sucha Singh Chhotepur after he resigned as Punjab convenor for AAP, has fielded Hardip Singh Kingra, ex-IFS of Himachal-cadre from the constituency of Faridkot.
  13. Satbir Singh Khatra, son of DIG Ranbir Singh Khatra, will contest elections on ticket of Akali Dal from Patiala Rural constituency. DIG Khatra had been a close aide of former-SGPC president Late Gurcharan Singh Tohra.

 

Observers say the first phase of Punjab bureaucracy taking a turn towards politicisation began during the days of terrorism when under President’s rule the civil servants exercised absolute powers. In the post-terrorism days, after 1992, politicians began banking heavily on civil servants and shared power. But, after 1997, politicians and bureaucrats adopted a policy of ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’. The count of bureaucrats contesting elections has increased from around 20 in 2012 to over 35 in 2017. However, giving a ticket these babus is not a not guarantee of winning the elections. While the strongest contender Darbara Singh Guru lost last time, heavyweight Paramdeep Singh Gill suffered similar fate.

Come February 4 and voters will tell them again; that in a democracy, it is the common man who will decide his ruler’s destiny.

O Guru, Hun te ho Jaa Shuru!

If Delhi witnessed histrionics in their Chief Minister, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal; Punjab has its own drama-king in cricketer-turned-politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu. It was on 18 July 2016, that Sidhu resigned from BJP’s Rajya Sabha seat, making an emotional speech on his love for Punjab. It has been 177 days since then and his political plans are yet unclear.

Career

Known as “Sixer Sidhu” for his prolific batting performances, his International Cricket career lasted from 1983 until 1999. Post retirement, Sidhu took up television commentary, TV shows, films and politics. While working with comedian Kapil Sharma, earlier on Comedy Nights with Kapil and now, The Kapil Sharma Show; Sidhu had been a former Member of Parliament from Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency between 2004 and 2014. The tension in his political innings began, when he was denied an election ticket in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Sidhu decided not to contest elections from any other constituency apart from Amritsar, citing the emotional bond and the work he had done for the city. His unhappiness with the party was visible and he was expected to take some step.

Political Past

After his resignation from Rajya Sabha, he decided to join Aam Aadmi Party on the pretext of being its CM candidate. When the same was denied to him, he along with Pargat Singh (ex-Akali Dal MLA from Jalandhar Cantt constituency) and Bains brothers (independent MLAs from Ludhiana) formed a new political front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, claiming to fight against those working against Punjab. His Front broke up due to his decision of not fighting the elections as it was not feasible for a new party to give results in just 3 to 4 months. While Pargat Singh joined Congress, Bains brothers went ahead with AAP, but Sidhu hasn’t still decided upon any role. And this is the root of all confusion.

Present Politics

While Punjab Congress chief and CM-candidate Capt. Amarinder Singh might be announcing Sidhu’s candidature from Amritsar (East) constituency, interestingly, Sidhu himself has never confirmed whether he will join Congress or not, leave alone the suspense over him or his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu to fight elections or not.

The importance of being Navjot Singh Sidhu

The whole drama of Sidhu being an apple in the eyes of Punjab voters is him being a prominent Sikh face in Punjab. He has a clean image with no history of corruption. Also, Sidhu is a star campaigner and has a sharp political acumen. Both traits make him an uncanny crowd puller. Equally, if not more, crucial are his unquestionable anti-Badal credentials — a reputation he has built assiduously and aggressively by taking the ruling Badal clan head-on. Sidhu is widely seen as a fighter against the Badals which he wears on his sleeve as badge of honour. The Congress wants to cash in on his clean image despite the fact that Sidhu has never taken a clear political stand on any of the issues concerning Punjab.

Congress and Sidhu

Not only Capt. Amarinder Singh, but the opposition (Akali Dal and AAP) are also left in frenzy as to what will Sidhu do next. Even more interesting is Amarinder Singh’s stance on Sidhu, which changes after every fifteen days from hard to soft to hard. The Punjab Congress is confused as to whether Amarinder Singh wants Sidhu in his party or not. Some sources say that there are chances that Sidhu might not contest the Assembly polls for now and stick to campaigning for the Congress. There is another scenario which states that Congress might also offer Sidhu a Rajya Sabha seat.

Another interesting angle in this whole story is the by-election to Lok sabha seat of Amritsar, which has been vacated by resignation of Amarinder Singh on the issue of SYL canal. This election is also due on 4 February, along with Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections. Before entering Congress, Sidhu made a condition, that his wife shall be given a ticket to contest from Amritsar (East) constituency and he should be given the Lok Sabha ticket. When Sidhu realised that Congress might give-in to his demands, he took a step further and asked for becoming the CM candidate from Congress (which had been declined by AAP). It was at this time that the talks failed, when Amarinder Singh made it clear that not only will he be the CM-candidate, but it will be he, who will decide the candidates to all 117 seats. If Sidhu wishes to join Congress, he should do it unconditionally. Further, going by Congress’s norm in 2017 Punjab Assembly elections of ‘one-family-one-ticket’, either Sidhu, or his wife will get the ticket, not both.

The man, who left his MP seat to become CM of Punjab, then on the promise of being a deputy CM (claimed by both AAP and Congress), now is apprehensive of even contesting Assembly elections. While Sidhu keeps his sher-o-shayari and laughter scale up in Kapil Sharma’s show, his dilly-dallying and delaying of candidature is adding to chaos and uncertainty in Punjab’s political scenario.

Punjab goes for Assembly Elections

With the Election Commission announcing dates for the Elections in 5 states; Punjab, along with Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa has started the final phase for its competition for the 2017 Assembly Elections.

Schedule:

Punjab will go for polls in a single phase on 4 February 2017 (Saturday) for a contest on 117 constituencies. The notification for the same will come out on 11 January for filing the nominations, 18 January being the last date and 21 January being the date to withdraw nomination. The result will be declared on 11 March 2017. Also, with the announcement of dates on 4 January, the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect in the 5 states. This is the first time that the EC has given such a short duration of less than 30 days for parties to prepare for their elections.

Model Code of Conduct:

  1. The Punjab Government can NOT take any small or big decision now. It will work as a caretaker for the state, with the responsibility of maintaining basic facilities and Law & Order till the results are declared. The Cabinet does not hold any power to present a bill in the Vidhan Sabha.
  2. The Ministers and MLAs can NOT use any government facilities bestowed to them, as their terms have formally ended. These facilities like government vehicles, residences, exemption from toll are henceforth withdrawn. However, the Ministers and MLAs can keep the security that has been provided to them.
  3. The ruling party can NOT use its seat of power for the campaign purposes. It can NOT direct the government employees to canvass votes for them, directly or indirectly.
  4. Transfer of Punjab government employees will take place ONLY on the orders of Central and State Election Officials.
  5. The government can NOT start or lay foundation stones of the new development projects like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc. or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies. However, the work of the already started projects will not be stopped.
  6. Government bodies can NOT participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
  7. Before using loud speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the District Administration for conducting election rallies.

 

New Rules by Election Commission for Punjab:

  1. The candidates contesting elections have to provide an affidavit stating that they have no bills pending on them, which include those of Electricity, Water & Sewerage, House rent and Taxes.
  2. The limit on expense for a candidate to contest an election will be ₹28 lakhs.
  3. Apart from the names and symbols of the candidates contesting elections, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will also have their photograph opposite their names.
  4. The height of the voting compartment will be increased by 30 inches to maintain secrecy of the casted votes.
  5. The voters can demand a coloured voter slip which can confirm the vote given by them.
  6. Separate polling booths for Men and Women in sensitive areas.
  7. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) will deploy its 43 officers across the state for drug law enforcement and intelligence to fight drug trafficking and the abuse of illegal substances.

 

Election Scenario:

The present situation of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha is: the Akali Dal-BJP coalition has a total of 71 seats, Congress has 43 seats, while others occupy 3 seats. Out of the total 117 seats, 59 seats are required to form a government. Of the 1.9 crore voters in Punjab, 50.2% (1.1 crore) are from the age group 18-39 years, meaning that the government to be formed will be decided by the youth. The General category voters constitute to 41%, Dalits constitute 32.9% and the rest 26.1% are OBCs.

Parties in the contest:

Around 35 parties are set to fight the Punjab elections. The prominent names being Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India-ML (CPI-ML), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Punjab Front and Apna Punjab Party (APP).

The 2017 Assembly elections will witness a triangular contest between the ruling SAD-BJP coalition, the opposition INC and the new entrant AAP. The usual bilateral contest between Akali Dal and Congress was challenged by Manpreet Singh Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) in 2012 Assembly Elections, but it failed to win even a single seat. PPP has now been merged in Congress.

Riding on the development plank and fighting the anti-incumbency wave is the Chief Minister for the past 9 years, S. Parkash Singh Badal of SAD-BJP coalition. This election might be the last for him, where his son and Akali Dal president S. Sukhbir Singh Badal will lead the campaigning. Being a part of the NDA alliance at Centre, BJP will be asked to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi for conducting rallies. Challenging the issues of lawlessness, farmer issues and demonetisation is the ex-Chief Minister from Congress, Capt. Amarinder Singh. He has already announced that this will be the last term of five years, after which, he will retire from active politics. He will be assisted by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who needs to desperately win a state, after being on a losing spree since 2012. And fighting the two arch-rivals will be Aam Aadmi Party, which has raised issues of corruption, drugs and nepotism. Though AAP has not announced its formal CM candidate as of now, yet Bhagwant Mann, MP from Sangrur, has been fiercely campaigning for the party. He is joined by Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi CM and AAP National Convenor, who is eying the only state that gave his party 4 seats in Lok Sabha elections of 2014. It will be a make or break election for him, as this defeat will dent the future of his party.

Even though the contest is mainly between the three parties, yet smaller ones will try to make their presence felt by taking a prominent amount of vote share. These include Mayawati-led BSP, Jagmeet Brar-led TMC, Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi-led Punjab Front and Apna Punjab Party (APP), floated by Sucha Singh Chottepur, after he was sacked from the post of AAP state-convenor.

Punjab will witness a contest which will decide the fate of Congress and AAP in national politics and that of S. Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab. Congress lost elections in 2012, General Elections in 2014 and State elections in 2015. With their chances looking bleak in rest 4 states, the party is banking heavily on Punjab for its revival. AAP will want to increase its tally with Punjab as a second state after Delhi, which will help it in becoming a major force in General Elections of 2019. Finally, with his father retiring and slated to take the bastion of the party in his hands, Badal Junior will want to become the new face of the traditional party of Punjab.

Come 4 February, the mood of the Punjabi voters, will be clear!