Former finance minister of Punjab, Manpreet Badal, quit the Congress and joined the BJP on 18 January. Nephew of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Manpreet Badal has been finance minister of Punjab under both the SAD-BJP and Congress governments.
Manpreet Badal is the latest in the list of several other prominent Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leaders to join the BJP in the past few months. To name a few, the list includes former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar, former ministers Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, Raj Kumar Verka, Balbir Sidhu, Gurpreet Kangar, Sunder Sham Arora (all from Congress) and Sarup Chand Singla from SAD.
Therefore Manpreet Badal is not the first and certainly won't be the last prominent Punjab leader to join the BJP. There are rumours that one more high profile Congress leader is being courted by the BJP.
This article will try and answer these two questions:
Will this really help BJP in Punjab?
What are the party's prospects for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
Will Recent Entrants Help BJP in Punjab?
So 2024 will be the first Lok Sabha election the BJP is contesting in Punjab without its alliance with the Akali Dal. Under the alliance, the party has been contesting three seats out of 13 in Punjab - Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Amritsar - with senior partner SAD contesting 10. Among these three, two are Hindu majority constituencies - Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur - and the BJP has won both seats in the last two Lok Sabha elections.
The new entrants would at least ensure that the BJP has strong candidates for many of the 13 seats.
For instance, Manpreet Badal or Gurpreet Kangar may contest from Bathinda, Sunil Jakhar could replace the hugely unpopular BJP MP from Gurdaspur - Sunny Deol. There is also speculation around a few other candidates: Captain Amarinder Singh's daughter Rai Inder Kaur, Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi from Ferozepur, Balbir Sidhu from Anandpur Sahib and Kewal Dhillon or Arvind Khanna from Sangrur.
But can these new entrants ensure an increase in BJP's seat tally from Punjab? Probably not.
The 2015 sacrilege incidents and the 2020-21 farmers' protest have set in motion a churn in Punjab and created an atmosphere of general dissatisfaction, especially among rural Sikh voters. This also happens to be the main constituency the BJP needs to woo if it has to have any impact in Punjab.
The last thing that this section would want is a return to leaders who have already been rejected.
If the public wanted to elect Captain Amarinder Singh, Manpreet Badal, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Gurpreet Kangar, Balbir Sidhu, Sarup Singla, Raj Kumar Verka or Sunder Sham Arora, they wouldn't have lost their own Vidhan Sabha seats. There is especially a great deal of fatigue related to Captain and the Badal family, including Manpreet Badal.
Presently many of these leaders are facing cases - Gurpreet Kangar and Sunder Sham Arora are both facing vigilance cases, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi and his supporters were accused of poll violence in the 2022 election, Sarup Singla's son was also facing an assault case.
An electorate yearning for change is hardly likely to find these faces inspiring. In the end, the BJP's prospects would depend not so much on these faces but on the party's election strategy and narrative.
So What Are the BJP's Prospects for the 2024 Elections?
There is no denying that the BJP's influence is increasing in Punjab.
It is establishing its presence in areas that it wasn't contesting for all these years due to its alliance with the SAD. By virtue of contesting more seats, it is likely to increase its vote share in the state.
Another factor working in its favour is that a sizable chunk of Hindu voters do have a positive opinion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This may not have been reflected in the Assembly election because state level factors were at play, but the sentiment is no doubt there.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath's appeal is also increasing in this section - it is common to find people who say that Punjab should follow the 'UP model' of combatting gangsters.
Among Sikhs, too, the BJP's image isn't as negative as it used to be during the farmers' protest. BJP insiders are confident that the party's image may be softening due to overtures made by PM Modi to the community. However, it has a long way to go before it becomes the preferred party for this section.
The problem for the BJP is that Hindu voters haven't historically consolidated behind a party the same way they did behind the BJP in states like Assam, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Even in 2019, it was the Congress which got around 50 percent of the Hindu votes, according to the Lokniti-CSDS survey.
Then, the NDA could face some reduction in Sikh votes due to the exit of the SAD. As a result of this, even Hindu dominated seats like Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur aren't a done deal for BJP as they did benefit in part due to the SAD's votes in both these places. For instance, four out of nine segments in Gurdaspur have a Sikh majority.
In the end, the BJP's prospects would largely depend on three things:
Its ability to consolidate Hindu Upper Caste votes to over 60 percent and a sizable chunk of Dalit votes.
Getting some Jatt Sikh votes based on its new inductions as well as a likely alliance with SAD (Dhindsa group).
Split in Sikh votes between the Aam Aadmi Party, SAD, Congress and SAD (Amritsar) or any other pro-Panthic entity that comes into prominence in the run-up to the elections.