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Amritpal Singh Looms Over Jalandhar Bypoll But 2 Other Factors May be Decisive

Many see the Jalandhar bypoll as a referendum on the crackdown on Amritpal Singh. But what will be its impact?

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After the arrest of Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh, the upcoming by-election for the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency is being seen as a sort of a referendum on the entire crackdown. While the Aam Aadmi Party hopes that the public will support its handling of the matter, its opponents feel there could be a backlash against the ruling party.

No doubt, this would be a major issue in the bypoll. However, the final outcome would also depend on the demographic profile of the seat as well as Assembly segment-wise management by different political parties.

The bypoll was necessitated by the demise of Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary earlier this year.

There are five major parties in the fray - Congress, AAP, SAD-BSP combine, BJP and SAD-Amritsar.

This article will look at these three aspects.

1. Why is demography such an important factor in this election?

2. What role could the Amritpal Singh issue play in the bypoll?

3. How are each of the parties placed at the micro level?

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1. Why is Demography an Important Factor in the Election?

Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency encompasses the entire Jalandhar district. It is a heterogenous constituency from both a religious and caste point of view.

About 39 percent of the population in the seat are Dalits. These are themselves a diverse group, including Ravidassia, Ad Dharmi, Ramdassia, Mazhabis and Balmikis.

Many of the Dalit voters don't identify either as Hindu or Sikh.

Sikhs, both Dalit and non-Dalit, are about 33 percent in the seat.

Upper Caste Hindus account for over 20 percent of the seat's population and they are heavily concentrated in Jalandhar city.

There is also a small but rising number of Christian voters in the seat.

Demography plays an important role in the seat because only parties which are able to get votes from the three major groups in the seat - Dalit, Jatt Sikh and Upper Caste Hindu - can win the seat.

As a result, this seat has been a bastion of the Congress, whose main base in Punjab lay among Dalit and Upper Caste Hindu voters.

Many see the Jalandhar bypoll as a referendum on the crackdown on Amritpal Singh. But what will be its impact?

Santokh Singh Chaudhary, whose demise has let to the bypoll. 

(Image: Altered by The Quint)

The Congress won the seat 15 out of 19 times till date.

It has lost Jalandhar only under very exceptional circumstances - to the Shiromani Akali Dal during the 1977 and 1996 anti-Congress waves, and in 1989 and 1998 when the Akalis cleverly backed Janata Dal leader Inder Kumar Gujral to break Congress' rainbow coalition.

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Given the need for party's to have the support of all the communities in the seat, it gives an advantage to 'catch-all' parties like the Congress and AAP.

The other players are weak on one social group or the other - the SAD-BSP combine would be a distant fourth among Upper Caste Hindu voters, the BJP has a severe problem among Jatt Sikh voters and the SAD-Amritsar may be weak among both Hindu and Dalit voters.

However, in a multi-cornered contest, it would still give such parties an outside chance if they completely consolidate one or two social groups, with the third group getting split. But this is a rarity in Punjab where caste and communal polarisation is usually lesser. Unlike the Hindi belt, where social groups consolidate even up to 80-90 percent, in Punjab it seldom exceeds 50-60 percent.

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2. What Role Could the Amritpal Singh Issue Play?

Ground reports suggest that a sizable section of Panthic Sikhs may have become alienated from AAP due to the crackdown that has taken place over the last one month.

Many of those who don't agree with Amritpal Singh, also feel that he has been punished much more than the alleged crimes he may have committed.

AAP has tried to assuage this section by repeatedly emphasising that 'not a bullet was fired in the crackdown' and that the sanctity of the Gurdwara in Rode was maintained while arresting Amritpal Singh.

However, this is unlikely to stem AAP's decline among Panthic Sikhs, a section that had voted for it in the 2022 Assembly elections.

The Congress, not a traditional choice for Panthic Sikhs, has been trying to woo this section by bringing some nuance to its position on the Amritpal Singh crackdown.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi's statement criticising the security agencies for preventing Amritpal Singh's wife from flying out of India, has gone down well among many pro-Panthic voters. Channi said that daughters belong to everyone and shouldn't be dragged into this tussle.

Channi has emerged as a prominent campaigner for the Congress in the seat also because of its high Dalit population.

Many see the Jalandhar bypoll as a referendum on the crackdown on Amritpal Singh. But what will be its impact?

Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh, moments before surrender.

(Photo: Screenshot of the video)

However, coming back to pro-Panthic Sikhs, this isn't a clear-cut battle like the Sangrur bypoll last year. Following Sidhu Moose Wala's assassination, there was complete consolidation of this section behind SAD-Amritsar chief Simranjit Singh Mann. It became a two-way fight between Mann and AAP, in which Mann won.

In Jalandhar, SAD-Mann has fielded Gurjant Kattu but it isn't a serious option in the seat due to the demographic factors discussed above.

The Congress has been traditionally seen as an adversary so it remains to be seen whether the efforts by leaders like Channi and Sukhpal Khaira will make this section tactically shift to the party.

The other option is the SAD-BSP combine, which had a strong presence in about five segments but is weak in four.

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The Micro Picture

Under Channi's leadership, the Congress had managed to win five out of the nine Assembly segments in Jalandhar even amidst an AAP wave in 2022. The Congress' vote share at 33 percent was also about five percentage points higher than AAP.

Realising that it is at a disadvantage, the AAP has made a few acquisitions to make up for the deficit.

It has fielded former Congress MLA from Jalandhar West, Sushil Kumar Rinku, as its candidate in the bypoll. Jalandhar West is emerging as a strong segment for AAP with BJP candidate Mohinder Bhagat also joining AAP. Bhagat secured 28 percent votes in the seat and has a strong following in the Bhagat community, which has a sizable presence in the area.

However, this hasn't been without its issues as the supporters of Rinku and AAP MLA from Jalandhar West Sheetal Angural came to blows the day Rinku filed his nomination papers.

Many see the Jalandhar bypoll as a referendum on the crackdown on Amritpal Singh. But what will be its impact?

CM Bhagwant Mann campaigns for Sushil Rinku in Jalandhar. 

(PTI)

To get the arithmetic right in the seat, AAP has also brought in SAD leader from Jalandhar Cantonment Jagbir Brar and secured the support of a newly formed Christian party.

The Congress is counting on sympathy for Late MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary and has fielded his wife Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary.

Having five MLAs is a major advantage for the Congress. This includes Late Santokh Singh Chaudhary's son Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary from Phillaur, Hardev Laddi from Shahkot, besides senior leaders Pargat Singh from Jalandhar Cantonment and Avtar Singh Junior aka Bawa Henry from Jalandhar North and former BSP leader Sukhwinder Singh Kotli from Adampur.
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Nakodar and Jalandhar West are the weakest seats for Congress.

The SAD-BSP alliance has fielded SAD MLA from Banga, Dr Sukhwinder Sukhi, a highly respected person in his area. But unfortunately for him, Banga doesn't fall under Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency.

The SAD-BSP alliance is hoping to get a major chunk of Dalit and Jatt Sikh votes, to make up for their weakness in Upper Caste Hindu-dominated segments.

They are also focusing on segments where they did reasonably well in the 2022 elections, despite losing.

In Nakodar, the SAD-BSP combine is decently placed due to the presence of SAD's Wadala family and the segment may end up being between them and AAP.

The SAD-BSP are hoping to get a decent chunk of votes in the four other rural segments - Phillaur, Shahkot, Kartarpur and Adampur

BJP is likely to make its presence felt in two heavily Hindu-dominated urban Assembly segments - Jalandhar Central and Jalandhar North.

It has fielded Inder Iqbal Atwal, who joined the party from the SAD. His father Charanjit Singh Atwal was deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha. He had also contested and lost against Santokh Singh Chaudhary in 2019 as an SAD candidate.

BJP is attempting an interesting experiment by fielding a Mazhabi Sikh candidate against the Ravidassia candidates of the Congress, AAP and SAD-BSP.

The SAD-Amritsar has fielded its Dalit face Gurjant Kattu, also a Mazhabi Sikh. He was the party's candidate from Mehal Kalan in Barnala district and did decently, securing 20 percent votes. In Jalandhar, however, he is an outsider.

The SAD-Amritsar is entirely banking on an emotional vote following the Amritpal Singh crackdown. However, demographics of the seat aren't in its favour.

The Jalandhar bypoll will reflect not just the public view of the crackdown on Amritpal Singh but also the popularity or lack of it of the AAP government and revival or lack of it of the traditional parties Congress and SAD.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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