When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the NDA’s (read BJP) decision of the repeal of the three contentious farm laws, the political ecosphere of Punjab was expected to change a bit. While the main focus of the decision to repeal the laws will have been the elections in Uttar Pradesh, specifically Western UP, with thousands upon thousands of farmers from Punjab having joined hands with their counterparts from western UP and Haryana in the nearly year-long protest, Punjab will be an important state in focus as well.
Frankly, as long as the farm laws were in place, the BJP’s chances in this state were next to zero. The Shiromani Akali Dal’s exit (protesting the farm laws) from the NDA was a broad sign, no less, of the general feeling each Punjabi had towards the NDA and its rule in Delhi. Now the balance may have shifted, but only just a wee bit.
One has to also remember that the farmers have decided that the agitation isn’t over yet, principally because of two reasons: they want to see parliament actually repeal the laws and they also want a law in place, ensuring the Minimum Support Price (MSP), which was one of the demands. Whether a law on MSP is practically feasible is matter of debate, but the agitation can survive on the strength of this demand?
The idea within the BJP now is that with the withdrawal of the farm laws, this party may have come back into the voters’ focus. That is an option that the NDA is banking upon.
Moreover, so far more than 50,000 cases have been lodged against farmers who were involved in agitations, and a demand is that these cases must be withdrawn. Not to forget compensation for the 700-plus farmers who have lost their lives during the year-long agitation. That will remain a hugely painful issue for several farmer families and needs to be addressed.
Hence, while the agitation stays put well in sight of the voters (the MSP issue), there will be tremendous pressure on formatting poll manifestos and other issues.
What is the plus for Congress? They still have the support of the people in general and Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is being seen to wield power with a strong hand. The issues at hand now are drugs, border issues (again a Centre’s stronghold), health, education and the economy. These are regular, dime a dozen issues, and may not seem exotic enough to the voters. If the Congress can get some of the farmer agitation leaders to join the party, that might have some effect.
What happens to the Aam Admi Party (AAP)? It is actually the second largest party in the state. To their credit, many of the agitators were also AAP supporters; they stay on for better times. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal has promised free electricity if AAP wins, but that isn’t the biggest problem in Punjab. It is being held that Kejriwal sees the administration of Delhi as a point of reference while dealing with Punjab. Frankly, Punjab is a very different kettle of fish. AAP may just up their vote share next year.
Finally, the SAD-BSP. Bigger problems lie before them. Their credibility is at a low and SAD’s history with the BJP will not be seen as a good thing to look back upon. Plus the BSP stress on the Dalit Sikh votes might not elicit the required response, especially with the Congress foisting a Dalit Sikh – whatever that means – as the Chief Minster.
That is probably the sum and substance of the state, as of now.