Radicals emerge winners as Congress retains dominance in Punjab

Two Sikh radicals, including Khalistan ideologue Amritpal Singh, secure victories, underscoring the growing influence of hardliners.

Published : Jun 04, 2024 22:10 IST - 3 MINS READ

Congress supporters in Jalandhar celebrate the party’s lead during the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election on June 4, 2024.

Congress supporters in Jalandhar celebrate the party’s lead during the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election on June 4, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The extraordinary triumph of two Sikh radicals, including Khalistan ideologue Amritpal Singh, currently lodged in Assam’s Dibrugarh jail and facing charges under the National Security Act (NSA), in this election in Punjab underscored the growing footprint of hardliners. However, the Congress managed to secure a majority stake in these parliamentary polls, winning 7 of the 13 seats in Punjab, down one seat since the last election.

Amritpal, who stirred radical sentiments in Punjab last year, was arrested after a month-long manhunt. Despite this, he managed a whopping margin of 1.93 lakh votes, the highest by any winning candidate in Punjab.

The incumbent AAP in Punjab, the second State in the country after Delhi to have an AAP government, managed to win just 3 seats. Elsewhere in the country, the AAP drew a blank. While the BJP, contesting for the first time since 1996 as an independent party without the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) (Badal) as an ally, failed to open its account, the party managed to increase its vote share by about three times in this election.

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The SAD (Badal), staring at an uncertain future, could only win a single seat from Bathinda. From the Faridkot seat, Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, the son of Beant Singh, one of the assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, won his seat with a huge margin exceeding 70,000 votes.

The vote share of all parties dipped significantly in this election. The BJP failed to translate votes into seats, yet it was the only party that gained in vote share—from 6.6 per cent in 2019 to 19 per cent in this election. The BJP remained the first runner-up in three Lok Sabha constituencies. The Congress lost 13 per cent vote share, the AAP 16 per cent (considering its 2022 vote share), and the SAD 14 per cent.

The Congress retained its space with the Jat Sikh and the Dalit voter base rallying around the party. The BJP successfully managed to consolidate the Hindu vote share in Punjab, which amounts to a sizable 39 per cent. The BJP cut into the vote share of both the Congress and the AAP. This was the first election which saw the BJP put up candidates for all 13 seats. The saffron party has laid its foundation for the 2027 Assembly election.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the SAD, former CM SS Channi, and Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring figured prominently in their wins. Former Union Minister Preneet Kaur lost in her home turf to Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi of the Congress.

In neighbouring Haryana, the verdict indicated a near-total rout of the regional parties, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). It also underlined the falling stock of the BJP, a party that won 10 seats in 2019 but was reduced to half its tally in this time around. The saffron outfit also lost a sizable 12 per cent vote share. The Congress vote share jumped 17 per cent since last time, translating into 5 seats.

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The Congress managed to consolidate the dominant Jat voters and certain sections of the OBC voters with its social engineering formula of contesting just two Jat candidates, leaving the rest of the eight seats for other communities.

The counter-polarisation of the Jat votes adversely impacted the BJP’s prospects. The party’s underperformance in Haryana in 2024 will present a major challenge to it from the Congress in the Assembly election just 6 months away. Prominent leaders who won the election include Deepender Singh Hooda, the son of former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Selja Kumari of the Congress, Naveen Jindal, and Manohar Lal Khattar of the BJP. The Congress’ alliance with the AAP in Haryana did not work wonders, as the AAP’s lone candidate lost from Kurukshetra.

Gautam Dheer has been covering policy and politics in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh for over two decades.

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