Will Amarinder, Akalis, BJP come together in Punjab?

The BJP’s vote share in Punjab has been declining — 8.21 per cent in 2007 to 7.13 per cent in 2012, and finally to 5.4 per cent in 2017, when it won just three of 23 seats the party contested.
So doing an election deal with Amarinder and a political formation he might float in the future is not inconceivable.
Aditi Phadnis reports.

Soldiers don’t die. They fade away. Never was the saying more apt. As Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab, prepares himself for another political battle, he can have new allies but may find himself fighting to stay relevant.

But of course, all this is contingent on the plans of an old soldier. He is on his way out of the Congress.

That Amarinder is bitter about the way the Congress has treated him is no secret. That the Congress would shed no tears if the ‘Maharaja of Patiala’ walked out of the party was also patently clear from statements made by party manager Harish Rawat that Amarinder would be lying if he said he was ‘humiliated’ by the party.

An Amarinder loyalist says sardonically that Rawat has been “promised chief ministership of Uttarakhand after the next election if the Congress comes into power”, but adds that in the future, Rawat may find himself in the position Amarinder is now.

But, for the moment, Rawat has delivered on all the tasks set for him: Navjot Sidhu, the man behind Amarinder’s ouster whose primary talent lies in his capacity to draw crowds, has been placated and told he’s in charge of the Congress in Punjab. A new CM is in place, one who has no hesitation in wearing his gratitude at getting the position on his sleeve. And options before Amarinder are few and far between.

He can — and likely will — leave the Congress. That will not be a first. Singh quit the Lok Sabha and the Congress in 1984 when the army entered the Golden Temple.

He got the news of Operation Blue Star when he was playing golf near Shimla. He asked his colleagues in the Congress to accompany him to meet Indira Gandhi in Delhi and tell her how disturbed they all were. They cried off, citing one or another excuse (one said her child had diarrhoea) and finally, Singh went alone with just one aide.

Indira was not happy. Rajiv Gandhi called him later to pacify him. Singh was unmoved. ‘Guru Gobind Singh had sent my ancestors a hukumnama (a letter of command to preserve the religion). There was no way that I could turn back from my decision,’ he told his biographer, Khushwant Singh.

That was then. He joined the Shiromani Akali Dal and won the assembly election. But then he parted ways with the SAD, launched his own party, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Panthic — and came a cropper. In the 1997 assembly election, he couldn’t even win his own seat.

Walking out of the Congress at this point and launching his own party could be a repeat of that experiment.

The other option is joining the Bharatiya Janata Party. But he would only do so on his terms. Conditions set by him — the central government scrap or at least put off the farm laws, a move that will get him the credit for a political victory — were unacceptable to the BJP. Conceding this would have brought the credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi (the PM has in the past ruled out reversing farm laws) into question.

The BJP’s vote share in Punjab has been declining — 8.21 per cent in 2007 to 7.13 per cent in 2012, and finally to 5.4 per cent in 2017, when it won just three of 23 seats the party contested.

Alliance partner SAD has since walked out of the partnership; although in a rash moment the BJP announced it would contest all the 117 seats in the Punjab assembly, the party knows perfectly well it might not be able to find the candidates to field, let alone win these seats.

So doing an election deal with Amarinder and a political formation he might float in the future is not inconceivable.

On the other side of the political divide in Punjab is the Aam Aadmi Party, which is aggressively driving home the fact that both Congress and Akali Dal are politically bankrupt entities; and the SAD, which has signed a seat-sharing pact with the Bahujan Samaj Party, according to which the BSP will contest 20 seats, leaving the rest for the SAD.

It is still not clear what the relationship between Amarinder’s new party and the BJP will be. It is safe to assume it will be to their mutual advantage.

Who knows, that relationship might even form a trifecta of old, erstwhile friends: The SAD, the BJP, and Amarinder.

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