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King's Party of Punjab: Will Captain Amarinder Singh & BJP Have a Major Impact?

Reduced to the status of a 'pariah', BJP desperately needs a friend in Punjab. Captain can fill this vacuum.

Updated
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Captain Amarinder Singh has said that he is open to an alliance with the BJP in Punjab. Image used for representational purposes.&nbsp;</p></div>
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Captain Amarinder Singh announced in a couple of recent interviews that he plans to form his own party and contest the upcoming Assembly elections in Punjab.

In one of the interviews he also said that he is open to an alliance with the BJP, subject to some kind of a settlement to the farm laws, as well as a breakaway from Akali Dal factions.

While former Akali Dal leader Parminder Dhindsa has said there has been no proposal for an alliance from Captain, the BJP is yet to respond. However, Captain's earlier meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah does indicate that the party may be open.

As things stand today, Captain is still a member of the Congress and is yet to resign from the party. He was removed as Punjab CM a month ago after a majority of party MLAs expressed their desire for a change to the party high command.

Now, the question is what are the prospects for Captain's party?

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How Does Captain Serve the Centre’s Interests? The Kashmir Example

Captain and his proposed alliance with the BJP can be seen as similar to experiments in Kashmir. The Centre has time and again backed smaller political outfits in the Valley to break the monopoly of established players. It helps the Centre gain more leverage.

The BJP went a step further and looked to divide the polity in Muslim-dominated Kashmir and use its dominance of Hindu-majority Jammu to try and capture power in the state.

Regions like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab or the northeast fiercely assert their autonomy and it serves the Centre's interests to fragment the political landscape and find political actors who are willing to do its bidding in the state.

Despite being a Congress CM from 2017 to 2021, Captain has been on the same page as the Narendra Modi government on matters such as national security.

He was the only major politician in Punjab to back the ministry of home affairs' recent notification giving the Border Security Force power to arrest 50 km into the Punjab border.

Currently, the BJP is a political pariah in Punjab, especially among Sikhs and desperately needs an ally to retain legitimacy. Whether Captain is able to serve that purpose or not remains to be seen.

Can Captain Split the Congress in Punjab?

It is clear that his primary target is to teach a lesson to the Congress, in particular Navjot Singh Sidhu.

As things stand today, it seems unlikely that he would be able to split the party in Punjab. Captain's support among MLAs kept dwindling in the past few months and towards the end very few leaders were willing to stick their neck out for him.

Earlier this week, one of Captain Amarinder Singh's closest aides – Captain Sandeep Sandhu, who was his OSD – accompanied Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa at a press conference. Sandhu's presence was surprising as Randhawa criticised Captain Amarinder Singh during the presser.

Sandhu's case indicates that some of Captain's closest loyalists also may have made peace with the present dispensation in the party.

Many of them are either MLAs themselves or are aspiring for a ticket and may have doubts over their winnability as candidates from a newly formed party.

A lot would depend on ticket-selection by Congress. People denied tickets by Congress, or even other parties for that matter may consider joining Captain's party.

Given Captain's unpopularity as CM, as shown by surveys, many leaders also may be afraid of their chances being affected by this sentiment if they join his party.

Captain's ability to win over people from the Congress may be dependent on the following factor.

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Will Centre Give an Olive Branch on Farm Laws?

During his interview, Captain made it clear that he would ally with the BJP only if the Centre arrives at some kind of settlement on the farm laws.

It remains to be seen whether the Centre puts forward some kind of a compromise formula or not.

A proposal being considered is the Centre providing a guarantee for Minimum Support Prices as a sort of half-way measure to the farmers.

However, one section in the BJP does seem to be of the belief that the Singhu border incident has taken the focus away from what happened at Lakhimpur Kheri and therefore there's no need for the government to compromise.

What's clear is that a complete climbdown by the Centre is highly unlikely, so even if it offers a compromise formula, it may not cut ice with the farm unions.

Therefore if at all the Centre makes an offer, a great deal would depend on Captain's ability to create a constituency for a compromise within Punjab.

This is critically linked to the base that the BJP and Captain are looking at.

What Support Base Is Captain Looking At?

To state the obvious, farmers may be the least willing to fall for any possible compromise formula offered by the Centre, since they are the ones who stand to lose the most.

Therefore Captain and BJP's appeal would more be to the urban voters. The pitch could be something like: "The Centre offered a way out of the farmers' protest but the farm unions were stubborn and prolonged the instability in Punjab".

The Quint has already reported earlier that the only section among whom Captain retained some popularity just before his removal are older Hindu voters in urban areas.

The other aspect is that both the BJP and Captain seem to be trying to exploit the fissures within the farmers' movement. BJP is the only party in Punjab that has been alleging a caste angle to the Singhu border killing, despite the fact that both the victim and accused are Dalits.

Even the Punjab unit of the Bahujan Samaj Party isn't openly alleging a caste angle to the incident.

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Captain Amarinder Singh also seems to be trying the same strategy. During one of his latest interviews, he said that the Singhu victim hadn't committed an act of sacrilege.

Those in the farmers' protest, even though they have also condemned the killing, are seeing Captain's comment as an attempt to project the farmers' protest in bad light.

It also seems clear that Captain is unlikely to try and appeal to the Panthic Sikh section. One of the reasons for his removal was his inability to act against the Badals in connection with the 2015 sacrilege cases. This is a key issue for most Sikh voters but it is the Panthic Sikhs who have been raising this with the most intensity.

In the end, it does seem that Captain will at best be a marginal player in Punjab's electoral battleground.

Even Upper Caste Hindu voters – his only existing base according to surveys – may not necessarily consolidate behind his new party.

This is essentially a conservative vote bank and may choose to back a party that has a chance of winning than prop up a new party.

As written earlier, a lot would depend on two things — whether the Centre offers a solution to the farm laws and ticket-selection by political parties, especially the Congress.

(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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