(Dr Pentapati Pullarao, New Delhi)
The selection of Charanjit Singh Channi as the Chief Minster face of the Congress in Punjab has created excitement . There are many speculations on what impact will the Dalit Chief Minister have on Punjab results.
Just as Uttar Pradesh is a must-win for the BJP, Punjab must be won by the Congress for Rahul Gandhi’s national ambitions. If BJP fails to win Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi still has many chances to reverse his luck. But for Rahul Gandhi, if he loses Punjab, then he will face difficult days. But if he wins Punjab, Rahul can claim the leadership of the Opposition and get full control of Congress Party..
Punjab has 117 MLAs and is now under the Congress since 2017. Till 2017, Punjab was a two-party state with Congress and Akails. But since 2017, AAP Party of Arvind Kejriwal has become a third force and won 20 MLAs in 2017 and is the official opposition. For 2022 elections , Punjab has become a 4-party state with former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and BJP contesting as Fourth Front .
Advantages for the Congress :
- The Congress Party faces a divided opposition . There are the Akalis, Arvind Kejriwal and Ex-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh- BJP. So the opposition is divided between 3 parties, without any agreement between them. This division of the Opposition makes it easy for the Congress to win.
- The Congress Party has taken a big risk to appoint a Dalit Chief Minister Charanjit Channi. In the last 4 months, Channi has managed Punjab well and surprised everyone. The Dalits are over 30% of Punjab’s population and the Congress hopes that they will vote for Channi.
- The Congress also has a very charismatic leader Navjyot Sidhu as the Congress President. Sidhu attracts huge crowds and his personal image is very high . Sidhu is a celebrity and is a match for the Badals and ex-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
- The Congress Party has settled the controversy of who will be the Chief Minister face and selected Chief Minister Channi. This is expected to boost Dalit votes for the Congress. Punjab never had a Dalit chief minister
Problems for the Congress in Punjab :
a. There is great disunity in Punjab since Chief Minister Channi and Congress President Sidhu are against each other. Sidhu knows that if Channi continues as Chief Minister, he has no future in Punjab. As Chief Minister Channi is now the Chief minister face , Sidhu knows that even if Congress wins, he has no chance. Much will depend on how Sdhu behaves openly and secretly before the election date.
b. The AAP party of Kejriwal is leading in all the surveys. Kejriwal is a new face in Punjab. Kejriwal has high credibility as he is chief Minister of Delhi and his promises are respected. Moreover, Kejriwal has an honest image. So Congress has to fear much from Kejriwal. Kejriwal is also focusing on corruption allegations against the Punjab Chief Minister. Kejriwal is telling voters that if they want new politics in Punjab , then they must vote out the Congress.
c. Though Daltis are 30% in Punjab, they are divided into many distinct separate entities. In Telugu states, Malas and Madigas dominate Dalit population. But in Punjab, there are at least a dozen different groups and religions among Dalits. If Dalits stick to their old loyalties and votes are divided, then Dalit card of Congress will be a flop.
d. In 2017, when Congress won the Punjab, BJP and Badals decided that it was better for Congress to win than have the aggressive Kejriwal dominate Punjab. All surveys showed Kejriwal winning Punjab and hence Badals and BJP transferred their votes to Congress to stop Kejriwal. But now, Badals and BJP and Amarinder Singh fear Congress more and therefore, now they might transfer votes to Kejriwal to stop Congress.
e. In Punjab, except for 5 years, when Zail Singh was Chief Minister , only a Jat Sikh has been chief Minister of Punjab since 1966,when Punjab was formed. Aam Admi party CM candidate is a Jat Sikh, while Congress CM Channi is a Dalit. The biggest question now in Punjab whether the Jats will consolidate behind Bhagwant Mann of AAP party. The Congress Party has taken a big risk.
Impact for Congress :
If Congress wins the election, it will be a great victory for Rahul Gandhi . But if Congress is defeated in Punjab, it will be impossible for Rahul Gandhi to lead the Opposition. A great section of the opposition wants the Congress Party, but is against Rahul Gandhi’s leadership of the Opposition.
If Congress loses Punjab, then the new claimants for Opposition leadership will be Arvind Kejrwial, Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar.
The BJP would definitely like the Congress to lose Punjab to remove Rahul Gandhi from the leadership position.
Though Punjab is a small state, with only 13 MPs, it has become a critical state, which will impact national politics. Though Mamata Banerjee won Bengal with 42 MPs, it did not raise Mamata to the national leadership. But Punjab will either remove some leaders from national leadership or bring entirely new faces. Small Punjab has suddenly become very important. Sometimes small wars have big consequences. (Author is a Delhi based political analyst and economist)