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Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Do AAP & Congress Have an Informal Alliance in Punjab?

If one goes seat-by-seat, the candidate selection by AAP and Congress in Punjab reveals an interesting pattern.

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The battle lines for the elections to Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats are now drawn, with Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal announcing all 13 candidates and the Congress announcing 12 so far. The BJP is yet to declare candidates in four seats.

Elections in Punjab will take place in the last phase of polling on 1 June.

Adding to the unpredictability, is the fact that the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress - both partners in the INDIA bloc nationally - are fighting it out in Punjab. The two parties are contesting in alliance in Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa. But in Punjab, AAP is the ruling party and Congress is the main Opposition and the two parties have been engaged in a constant war of words over the past two years.

SAD chief Sukhbir Badal has accused the two parties of being in an "informal alliance" in Punjab as an extension of the formal alliance in other states.
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While there is no evidence to make this claim, especially given the bitter exchanges between the two sides, the candidate selection by AAP and Congress does reveal an interesting pattern.

It does seem that the two parties have ended up, whether by default or design, minimising the division of anti-Akali and anti-BJP votes.

What is important to note here is the fact that AAP and Congress have similar, though not identical, bases in Punjab. Both get votes from all the sections of society unlike SAD that is heavily dependent on rural Sikh votes and BJP on urban Hindu votes. With the SAD and BJP not in an alliance any more, each of these parties would need a division of votes among their rivals, to win a particular seat as they can no longer count on the support of their erstwhile ally's votes.

Since AAP and Congress' bases are similar, the scope for one party eating into the other's votes is pretty high. But the way they have selected candidates, the scope of this happening seems to have been minimised.

Let's look at some of the seats.

Seats Where Congress May End up Helping AAP

Faridkot

The Congress has dropped sitting MP Mohammad Sadique and fielded Amarjeet Kaur Sahoke. Sadique is a popular folk singer and a known figure in Punjab, and has been MLA from Bhadaur and MP from Faridkot. While age is being cited as one of the reasons for dropping him, party insiders say that the replacement is a "political lightweight" who "hasn't been very active in the political scene".

Faridkot is reserved for Scheduled Castes and parties usually field Mazhabi Sikh candidates here.

The choice of a "lightweight candidate" is surprising given that it is the primary area of influence of Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring. He is the MLA from Gidderbaha that falls under Faridkot Lok Sabha constituency and it was being expected that he would insist on a strong candidate.

In contrast, Faridkot is emerging as a prestige seat for the ruling Aam Aadmi Party. The party has fielded comic actor Karamjit Anmol, who is a friend of CM Bhagwant Mann. The CM is taking a great deal of personal interest in the seat.

If one goes seat-by-seat, the candidate selection by AAP and Congress in Punjab reveals an interesting pattern.

Karamjit Anmol with CM Bhagwant Mann

(Karamjit Anmol Facebook Page)

With the Congress not fielding a strong candidate, the contest has reportedly become between AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal's Rajwinder Singh. The BJP has fielded singer Hans Raj Hans who used to be the party's MP from Northwest Delhi but he is facing a strong pushback in the predominantly rural seat.

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Hoshiarpur

The seat has traditionally seen a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP. Despite the debacle during the 2022 Assembly elections, the Congress did surprisingly well in the segments that fall under Hoshiarpur constituency.

However, the party's prospects suffered a setback when their most prominent face from the area - MLA Rajkumar Chabbewal - shifted to AAP.

The party has fielded Yamini Gomar, who came third from the seat on an AAP ticket in 2014.

Chabbewal, who is contesting on an AAP ticket, is now being seen as a frontrunner from the seat. The BJP, which presently holds the seat, is the other claimant.

Anandpur Sahib

The Congress has shifted its sitting MP from the seat, Manish Tewari, to Chandigarh and it has announced the candidature of former Sangrur MP Vijay Inder Singla. Singla is not from Anandpur Sahib. He used to be MP and MLA from Sangrur cand is known to have been effective in his area. However, there are questions on how effective he would be as the candidate from Anandpur Sahib.

The names of Rana Gurjeet Singh and Pargat Singh were also doing the rounds for this seat.

AAP's Malwinder Singh Kang, who had been preparing to contest from Anandpur Sahib for some time now, is now said to hold the edge in the seat. Another contender is Prem Singh Chandumajra of the SAD.

Bathinda

The seat is witnessing a high-profile multi-cornered contest between sitting MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, AAP minister Gurmeet Singh Khuddian, SAD-turned-Congress leader Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu, gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana of the SAD-Amritsar and former bureaucrat Parampal Kaur of the BJP.

Congress' Sidhu is not a weak candidate by any stretch. However, the contest is largely said to be between Harsimrat Kaur and Khuddian, who had defeated Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal in the 2022 Assembly elections.

In fact by fielding a former Akali, the Congress may just end up harming Harsimrat and helping AAP's Khuddian.

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Seats Where AAP May End up Helping Congress

Gurdaspur

The Congress has fielded former minister and four-time MLA from Dera Baba Nanak, Sukhjinder Randhawa from Gurdaspur. Randhawa is the only heavyweight contesting from the seat presently. His main challenger would be former BJP MLA Dinesh Singh Babbu. AAP has fielded Batala MLA Sherry Kalsi, who isn't really known outside his own constituency.

This would make the fight mainly between Randhawa and Babbi.

Ludhiana

The Congress went through a crisis in this seat after sitting MP Ravneet Singh Bittu defected to the BJP. After a great deal of back and forth, the party on 29 April nominated state Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.

He is now up against Bittu, now contesting on a BJP ticket, AAP MLA Ashok Parashar Pappi and SAD's Ranjit Singh Dhillon.

Pappi is a first time MLA and isn't known much outside his own constituency. Also being a Hindu Brahmin candidate, he is likely to damage Bittu more as upper caste Hindus have been his main votebank. Warring will also get some support in the city but his fortunes would largely depend on the extent to which he sweeps the three predominantly rural segments. AAP's candidate selection has made matters easier for him there.

Jalandhar

AAP faced a crisis in Jalandhar as both its sitting MP Sushil Kumar Rinku and one of its more influential MLAs, Sheetal Angural, shifted to the BJP on the eve of elections.

The party has fielded a former Akali leader Pawan Kumar Tinu.

The Congress has fielded a heavyweight in former CM Charanjit Singh Channi. Jalandhar, a reserved for SC, has a Dalit population of over 30 percent. Being Punjab's first and only Dalit CM, Channi is considered a strong contender in the seat.

If one goes seat-by-seat, the candidate selection by AAP and Congress in Punjab reveals an interesting pattern.

Former Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi

(Photo Courtesy: Charanjit Channi Facebook Page)

While Channi is not from the Ravidassi and Ad Dharmi Dalit subcastes that are more dominant in Jalandhar, his presence as CM did give Congress a major boost in the area in the 2022 Assembly elections as it led to an overall consolidation of Dalits.

The BJP has fielded former Sushil Kumar Rinku, a former AAP MP and ex-Congress MLA. The party is hoping for a good chunk of votes from the urban segments but it may struggle in rural areas.

The SAD has fielded former Congress leader Mohinder Singh Kaypee.

With both SAD and BJP fielding former Congressmen, AAP's pick may end up harming Congress the least.

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The Battle for Sangrur

One of the most fascinating seats in this election is Sangrur, which is witnessing a four-cornered fight between sitting MP Simranjit Singh Mann, AAP minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, Congress' Sukhpal Singh Khaira and SAD's Iqbal Singh Jhundan. The BJP is yet to declare its candidate from the seat.

Khaira is not from Sangrur and hails from Kapurthala district. But he's known to be the most pro-Panthic leader in the Congress, who speaks out openly on Sikh issues.

This would make him a direct threat to Simranjit Mann.

Locals say that Khaira can either win himself or poll enough to harm Mann and, by default helping Meet Hayer.

This would be ironic as Khaira is known to be one of the most fierce critics of the AAP government and he has also been jailed during their current tenure.

AAP's calculation is that the anti-state government and pro-Panthic votes would get divided between Mann and Khaira. Mann's supporters on the other hand launched a aggressive campaign against Khaira, accusing him of "betraying the Panth".

Khaira's hope is to present himself as the strongest voice who can take on both the central and state governments and capture both Mann and AAP's space.

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Can INDIA Bloc Sweep Punjab Despite No AAP-Congress Tie-Up?

Besides the seats discussed above, there are a few seats in which both AAP and Congress are strong contenders, such as Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala and Amritsar.

So far there isn't any clear wave in Punjab to make any party win or lose. But just by virtue of having a base among all sections of voters, AAP and Congress are in the contest in more seats than the SAD or BJP.

As polling day comes closer, the momentum could go a little more decisively in favour of one of these two parties, especially in rural segments. If that happens, then candidate selection may not matter much beyond a point.

However, as the seats discussed above show, the two parties may have ended up trying to restrict their rivals like SAD, BJP and Simranjit Mann to the extent possible.

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