Despite Amritpal Singh, Punjab voters lean towards mainstream : The Tribune India

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Despite Amritpal Singh, Punjab voters lean towards mainstream

Despite Amritpal Singh, Punjab voters lean towards mainstream

Supporters of Waris Punjab De head Amritpal Singh campaign at his village, Jallupur Khera, in Amritsar. PTI

Tribune News Service

Akashdeep Virk

Chandigarh, May 29

A mere handful of the 323 candidates contesting Punjab’s 13 seats which go to the polls on June 1 are self-styled supporters of a so-called separate state called “Khalistan,” giving the lie to the gathering perception that this very sensitive, border state is once again veering towards a radical polity.

In fact, several contradictions stare you in the face if you’re willing to scratch the surface beneath the “Amritpal syndrome,” a phrase that has been gaining some popularity, especially outside Punjab, ever since the man who is now the Khadoor Sahib Independent candidate (Amritpal Singh) was imprisoned in Dibrugarh jail in far-off Assam.

A few of these candidates belong to Simranjit Singh Mann’s Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), with Mann himself publicly professing his allegiance to “Khalistan”, but contesting election after election since he won the Tarn Taran Lok Sabha seat in 1989 when he was behind the bars; then again in 1999 and in 2022 bypoll, he won from Sangrur — the seat falling vacant when AAP’s Bhagwant Mann became Chief Minister and Simranjit Singh Mann scraping through by 5,822 votes.

Another radical candidate, Sarbjit Singh Khalsa, the son of Indira Gandhi’s assassin Beant Singh, is contesting from Faridkot as an Independent.

The first noteworthy point here is that there are so few radical candidates in the fray, considering Punjab’s continuing reputation of being a state that does not see eye to eye with New Delhi. In the Modi era, it remains the only state to have forced the Prime Minister to roll back a decision that had been made — in this case, the farm laws — and continues to boycott BJP candidates fighting this election.

The second point is that whatever their radical politics, all these candidates have concluded that it is better to swear by the Constitution and fight elections — a fact that already waters down the Panthic agenda each of them swears by as they campaign in the heat and dust.

According to Harcharan Bains, political adviser to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and an old confidant of Sukhbir’s father and former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Panthic politics is not just about sloganeering and exploitation of religious sentiments. “It is about implementing a vision of life based on the inclusive and secular approach to humanity. That defines the SAD’s philosophy and approach,” Bains said.

Claiming that “there are some so-called radical Panthic figures but their goal and approach keeps shifting between radical and parliamentary,” Bains added that Simranjit Singh Mann’s victory in 2022 was the result of several factors like the tragic deaths of Deep Sidhu and popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala, among other things. It was an emotional rather than an ideological mandate, he said.

“Mann was able to cash in on factors like anti-incumbency against the ruling party better than his rivals could,” Bains claimed.

While Mann’s party has been accusing SAD of acting against Sikh interests, the Akalis in their manifesto have promised to uphold ‘principles over politics’. In the wake of the sacrilege, or “beadbi” incidents related to the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 and the consequent death of two protesters, SAD was routed in the 2017 elections, winning only 15 of the 94 seats it contested. The number hit rock bottom when in the 2022 Assembly poll, the party could barely win three of the 97 seats it contested. The Panthic party stood behind the Congress, the party which has been regularly accused by SAD of taking anti-Sikh actions in the past. When the Congress came to power in 2019, it promised to take action on the 2015 sacrilege-related cases. After the Congress regime, AAP came to power with a huge majority, on its agenda of welfare and development.

Is it correct that for the electorate, religious issues can never take precedence over welfare concerns? According to GNDU’s former Political Science professor Jagroop Sekhon, “There is hardly any consensus on Panthic issues among outfits. The Sikhs are divided on the basis of caste, urban-rural divide, etc. and the issues are not same for everyone. Eventually, people want development. In 1989, when radical Sikh candidates had won, the situation was different. Post those elections, such radicalism fizzled away.”

While it might be true, Amritpal is eyeing the Panthic vote in Khadoor Sahib of the Majha region. From this constituency in 2019, Paramjit Kaur Khalra, widow of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, had bagged 20.52 per cent of votes, ending third. Considering that the candidate this time is apparently being supported by a large section of voters and Paramjit, the tables may turn in his favour.

While the radicals claim that the people are fed up of parties ignoring their Panthic issues, the mainstream parties are campaigning on the agenda of development and peace. What sways the election, is yet to be seen.

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

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