Chandigarh, October 7: The third list of 29 candidates released by the Aam Aadmi Party for February 2017 Assembly election in Punjab is again dominated by the Sikhs. The party has so far declared 61 candidates out of 117.
The party has adopted 3-teir system of selection that includes campaign committee headed by Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, 6-member selection committee and then political affairs committee with party convener Arvind Kejriwal as the boss.
The party had hit the turbulence at the time of the release of the first list with then state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur raising the banner of revolt that culminated in split. He has floated Apna Punjab Party. He is getting support from AAP rebel MP from Patiala Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi and some smaller parties.
The political discourse in Punjab has always been dominated by Sikh dynamics but the electoral dynamics is slightly different issue. It was this changing dynamics that dictated the Shiromani Akali Dal to shift its thrust from Panthic affairs to Punjabiat in 1996. This is one state where the population of Dalits is slightly more than 32 per cent but this section has never been a political force. The Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kandhi Ram belonged to Punjab but this party failed to take roots here. The Hindu politics has always been a reaction to the Sikh political discourse but this section holds the key in Punjab. No vote bank is ever homogenous but one has to go by the dominating trend.
The Akali Dal put up 13 Hindu candidates for the first time in its history in 2012 Assembly elections that paid dividends to the party as 11 of them made it to the Assembly. The strategy was worked out by Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal. It is this political dynamics that forms the basis of the Akali Dal’s alliance with the Hindu party that is the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, in case of Punjab whose political dynamics is different from other states, it is the Congress that has historically been articulating Hindu point of view and not the BJP or its earlier avatar that was the Jana Sangh. The saffron party can’t make any dent on its own in this state.
State Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh tried to bring about shift in the traditional support base of Hindus and Dalits and he succeeded in making inroads in the Sikh vote bank, especially in the countryside. However, in the process, a section of the Hindus distanced from the Congress. The party is now trying its level best to retrieve its lost support base among the Hindus and the Dalits.
The socio-economic demography of Punjab has been changing over the years due to deepening crisis in the farm sector that has loosened the grip of the Sikh farmers over political discourse. This is also having multiplier effect as it is impacting entire economy in the state. This has started reflecting in the state’s political discourse. AAP seems to have overlooked these factors while giving preference to the Sikh candidates so far.
Kejriwal has been trying to take along different sections of society in the state and he recently addressed a conclave of the Aggarwal community in Jalandhar that is mainly the trading community. He has also been visiting various deras like leaders of other traditional political parties. However, social engineering based upon demographic structure of the state is missing in the selection of AAP candidates so far.
There is yet another aspect of putting up of Sikh candidates. The Sikh religio-political dynamics is a double edged weapon. More than giving tickets to Sikhs, the party would have to clear its stand on issues that concern the Sikhs and continue to be part of the political discourse.
These issues surface from time to time like the death sentence to Balwant Singh Rajoana and Devinder Singh Bhullar and the Sikh political prisoners languishing in jails. Punjab carries historical baggage that just can’t be ignored. It is precisely for this reason that the Akali Dal continues to go back to the Panthic issues at times. The Congress too has to come out in support depending upon the issues although for years, this party continued to be under attack for being anti-Sikh and anti-Punjab.
AAP would have to be cautious as well as conscious about this historical baggage.