State heads for uncharted electoral territory, aided by aggressive rhetoric

Just days after Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni) launched a political party to contest the upcoming legislative elections in Punjab, 22 other farmer groups followed suit to launch their own political front. The new Sanyukt Samaj Morcha is led by farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, and his electoral debut is sure to further fragment Punjab’s overcrowded field. For decades, a two-horse or two-and-a-half-horse race, Punjab politics today welcome multiple players pulling in different directions.

In fact, at the height of the peasant unrest over the summer, the ruling Congress was in charge and seeking to reap the rewards of the anti-center mood that had burned the BJP and Akali Dal. But Navjot Singh Sidhu effectively sabotaged that advantage, and Amarinder Singh’s replacement, Charanjit Singh Channi, is also facing Sidhu’s problem.

Meanwhile, the AAP, which surprisingly emerged as the main opposition party in the 2017 polls, is also in disarray. He flirted with the leaders of the farmers’ unions in the hope of overlapping the sentiments of rural Punjab. But with some unions making the political leap themselves, the AAP is likely to be confined to faceless pan-Punjab urban pockets. The unknown quantity, however, is Amarinder’s new Punjab Lok Congress and its expected alliance with the BJP. If the rapprochement were to come to fruition, it could at least play a spoiler role in several seats, affecting Congress, Akali Dal and the AAP. A key factor will be how the Hindu vote and the Sikh vote are distributed. In case of strong polarization, and depending on the credibility of the Amarinder campaign, the BJP-Amarinder combination may prove to be more powerful.

This communal division must also be seen in the context of the dangerously aggressive rhetoric on the issue of sacrilege. All politicians should be responsible on this issue – but one suspects that will not be the case.


This article was published as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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