Amritpal Singh’s victory a reflection of people’s disenchantment with mainstream parties in Punjab

The victories of radicals come amidst a growing burden of debt, corruption, agrarian crisis, drug abuse and unrelenting migration from Punjab.

Published : Jun 05, 2024 11:06 IST - 4 MINS READ

Amritpal Singh (C) along with devotees at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, October 2022.

Amritpal Singh (C) along with devotees at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, October 2022. | Photo Credit: NARINDER NANU

The electoral victories of jailed pro-Khalistan radical preacher Amritpal Singh from Punjab’s Khadoor Sahib, and Sarabjit Singh Khalsa, the son of Beant Singh, one of the two assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, have brought the focus back to the State’s troubled past and voters’ growing disenchantment with mainstream parties. According to the State observers, the traditional parties mostly stand discredited due to the growing burden of debt, corruption, farmers’ distress, drug abuse and unrelenting overseas migration from Punjab.

Both Singh and Khalsa had contested as independent candidates in this Lok Sabha election. While Singh defeated Congress candidate Kulbir Singh Zira with a margin of over 1,97,120 votes, Khalsa defeated Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Karamjit Singh Anmol with a margin of over 70,000 votes.

Unlike former Lok Sabha MP Simranjit Singh Mann, who lost the election from Sangrur seat, “Amritpal Singh and Sarabjit Singh Khalsa don’t have any track record in public life or politics,” said Ashutosh Kumar, head of the political science department in Panjab University. “It is highly unlikely that they will fit into the Parliamentary framework. Their sudden rise to prominence is worrying since Punjab shares border with Pakistan and has seen insurgency in the past.”

Also Read | Radicals emerge winners as Congress retains dominance in Punjab

During his campaign, Khalsa said that he was convinced by the community to contest the election. He galvanised support on the issues related to the desecration of the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, the release of Bandi Singhs (Sikh prisoners who completed their jail terms), the drug menace, Punjab’s right over its river water and the farmers’ demand for minimum support price on food crops.

Epicentre of militancy

Amritpal Singh remains in preventive custody under the National Security Act (NSA), in Assam’s Dibrugarh Central Jail for over a year now. Other candidates on the Khadoor Sahib seat, formerly a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) stronghold, included SAD’s Virsa Singh Valtoha, a former aide of the slain Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale; Laljit Singh Bhullar of AAP; and the former MLAs Kulbir Singh Zira (Congress) and Manjit Singh Mianwind (Bharatiya Janata Party).

Khadoor Sahib was the epicentre of militancy and is also home to several important Sikh shrines. As the area remains in the grip of drug abuse and agrarian distress, Amritpal Singh acquired a reputation for his campaign against drug addiction. Security forces launched a crackdown on his Waris Punjab De (‘Inheritors of Punjab’, a Sikh volunteer political group campaigning for a separate sovereign Sikh State) March last year, when he disappeared from the public sight. He was arrested after a month-long manhunt in Moga’s Rode village, the birthplace of militant leader Bhindranwale who was killed in Operation Blue Star.

Also Read | Contrarian Punjab may throw up a surprise again

In the run up to the election, notably, over a hundred youths who were detained in the operation against Waris Punjab De, campaigned for Singh. While the campaign was led by Singh’s father Tarsem Singh, his uncles and some NRIs with the active support of local gurudwaras.

According to observers, the Modi government used Amritpal Singh to discredit the farmers’ movement against three controversial farm laws that were later withdrawn. In fact, Sukhbir Singh Badal, the president of SAD, a former ally of the NDA, described the separatist leader a nominee of the Union government in a recent interview.

In this election, the State unit of the BJP saw several big-wigs from Congress and other rival parties joining it. As it has desperately been trying to secure a foothold in Punjab, the BJP has gained some traction in the Hindu-dominated urban areas. “Even the BJP knew that it can’t enter Punjab from front. “The BJP knew that it can’t enter Punjab through the front door. The polarisation in this election is clearly visible and it is going to help the BJP win over one-third of the seats in the next Assembly election [2027],” said Harjeshwar Singh an assistant professor of history at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh. “The BJP’s gameplan might bring it some immediate gains but will surely cost Punjab a fortune if its social fabric is ruptured once again, as it happened in the 1980s,” Singh told Frontline.

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