Punjab Elections: No Matter Who Wins, BJP Has Already Succeeded in Its Mission

BJP, which was written off in Punjab politics 3 months ago, has made a significant revival in the last one month.

Punjab Election
9 min read
Punjab Elections: No Matter Who Wins, BJP Has Already Succeeded in Its Mission

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"Hum Hindu hain aur hum BJP ko support karenge. Main direct bata raha hun aapko (We are Hindus and we will support BJP. I am telling you directly," says Mohinder, a businessman in Khanna city in Punjab's Ludhiana district.

"Na Congress, na Aam Aadmi, na Akali, sirf BJP (Not Congress, not Aam Aadmi Party, not Akali Dal, only BJP)," he emphasises dramatically.

Across Punjab, we found several voters making a similar argument in support of the BJP.

From a party that was written off in the state during the farmers' protest to now making its presence felt in areas it hadn't contested in nearly three decades, the BJP's rise in Punjab is one of the less analysed stories in this election.

This is because the BJP's success may not be very evident in terms of seats when the results come in, but in terms of sentiment, BJP has laid the ground for further growth in the state.


'We'll Vote As Hindus, Even if BJP Doesn't Win'

The sentiment echoed by Mohinder above is important. Khanna isn't a seat that many are expecting BJP to win, yet he plans to vote for BJP because of "being Hindu".

"Yes, people do tell me that BJP may have less of a chance here. But we have to make our voices heard."
Mohinder, voter in Khanna

A similar sentiment—of a separate Hindu vote—could be found among a few voters in Mandi Gobindgarh nearby, which falls under the Amloh constituency.

"Had the election been only in Mandi Gobindgarh, the BJP would have won because the numbers are with us," says Ashok, a voter in the seat.

When we asked what does he mean by "numbers are with us", he said, "You know what I mean. Anyone who follows India's politics would understand what I'm saying. Like Yogi (Adityanath) said in UP: 80 vs 20."

In Mandi Gobindgarh town, Hindus are around 67 percent but in Amloh tehsil, overall, Hindus are 40 percent and Sikhs are 56 percent.

However, there is need for nuance here as, in Amloh, we also came across a BJP supporter actively campaigning for the Shiromani Akali Dal.

"I am a loyal BJP supporter but the party doesn't have a chance here so I'm telling people to vote for the Akali Dal," the supporter says.

Pathankot: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others, during an election campaign rally for upcoming Punjab Assembly elections, in Pathankot, Wednesday, 16 February


As we had reported earlier, in Firozpur city, a businessman named Jeevan Lal had told us that "Only PM Narendra Modi can protect Hindus" and a young man said he'll vote for BJP because he's a "Kattar Hindu".


Farm Unions Entering Politics Gave BJP Supporters a Talking Point

One BJP voter after another in different parts of the state had a similar response on being asked whether the farmers' protest would harm the party's chances in the state.

They all asserted that the farmers' protest was a political conspiracy to malign Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Where are the farmers now? They are all trying to capture power. It was always about this. They wanted to spoil Modi's name and come to power in Punjab."
Anil Sood, a voter in Hoshiarpur

We heard a similar sentiment in Jalandhar.

"The farm unions had vested interests which became clear when they joined politics. You have no idea how much loss Punjab faced due to these protests. They all had a hidden agenda," says Tarachand, a voter in Jalandhar Central.

We have already reported people making a similar argument in Fazilka and Firozpur earlier.


PM Modi's Aborted Punjab Visit May Have Helped BJP Consolidate

"Even a PM couldn't visit the state due to these people. What can we say about the security of common Hindus?" says Pawan, a voter in Firozpur.

On being asked if there's any threat to Hindus in Punjab, he said, "No one threatens openly. That period is gone. But we can't openly give our opinion on many issues."

Some voters in Gurdaspur also said that people shouldn't have blocked Modi's convoy and that it was harmful to Punjab.

PM Modi's convoy was stuck near Ferozepur in Punjab. 

(Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

The BJP has tried to maximise the Modi factor by targeting PM Modi's rallies in areas where the party has high chances of winning a few seats.

  • Jalandhar: The BJP is in strong contention in the Jalandhar Central seat. The BJP hopes that the rally would also boost the party's prospects in seats like Hoshiarpur and Mukerian as well.

  • Abohar: The BJP has a strong chance in Fazilka and is in the fight in seats like Abohar and Firozpur. It is also hoping for some support from Dera Sacha Sauda followers in these areas.

  • Pathankot: The BJP is in the fight in all the seats in Pathankot district and also Gurdaspur and Batala in Gurdaspur district.


Role of Alliances, Turncoats from Congress

Another aspect that may have led to some increase in support for BJP is the entry of defectors from the Congress and the alliances with Captain Amarinder Singh's Punjab Lok Congress and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa's Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt).

The allied parties may not be adding much in terms of seats—Parminder Dhindsa in Lehragaga and Captain Amarinder Singh are the two main winnable prospects, and even they are facing a tough contest.

But they did create a perception that BJP is no longer a pariah, especially among Sikhs.

This is important because the proportion of Hindu voters willing to vote for BJP just to prove a point—like the ones we discussed above—may not be very high.

Many BJP-leaning Hindus feel confident to vote for the party only if they are assured that the party is getting support from other sections as well.

Punjab Lok Congress founder and former CM of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh

(Photo: IANS)

"Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi is a strong leader. Though he used to represent Guru Har Sahai, he has his supporters in Firozpur as well. Otherwise, it would not have been easy for us to vote for BJP even though we are committed to the party," says Kamal Kishor, a BJP supporter in Firozpur city.

"It's a practical reality, you can't win Punjab with just Hindu votes," he added.

In this context, top BJP leaders' meeting with the head of Dera Beas and the possibility of getting Dera Sacha Sauda support following Gurmeet Ram Rahim's furlough has also strengthened the perception of BJP growing beyond the urban Hindu vote.


Degrees of Opinion Within Hindu Voters

Consolidation of a section of Hindu voters in Punjab isn't a strategy unique to the BJP. The Congress, for many years, has been the default option for Hindus in the state and it has played to the community's fears in the past.

Even in the 2017 election, there was a last minute consolidation of Hindus behind Captain's Congress following the Maur Mandi blast. Initially projected as an act by Khalistanis, it eventually turned out to be the handiwork of Dera Sacha Sauda supporters by by that time elections were already over.

Even in this election, Congress leader Sunil Jakhar's comment that he wasn't made CM because of being Hindu may have also added to the resentment in the community as did the manner in which AAP amplified this issue.

However, a section of voters saying that they will vote for BJP even if it is losing in their seat, just because they are Hindu, is a slightly different phenomenon from fear-based tactical voting. Unlike the Hindi heartland, Gujarat or Karnataka, such an explicit assertion is not common in Punjab.

But it is important to note that this is only one among many layers of opinion among Punjab's Hindus.

There are also BJP-leaning Hindus who are voting for AAP just to defeat Congress, just as there are Modi supporters voting Congress due to a personal equation with a local leader.

There are also Modi supporters in seats like Sujanpur and Abohar, who are dissatisfied with the local BJP MLA.

Then there are also Hindu voters who genuinely disagree with BJP's politics.

"They (BJP) created so much unemployment and then they do Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Sikh to divert people's attention. There is no such issue in Punjab. All communities have the same problems," says Vikrant Sharma, a voter in Ludhiana.


Absence of Strong Local Leaders

The BJP is also handicapped due to the absence of strong Hindu leaders in bigger urban centres to match the likes of Congress' OP Soni in Amritsar or Bharat Bhushan Ashu in Ludhiana. Manoranjan Kalia in Jalandhar is a bit of an exception in this regard.

In some smaller Hindu majority cities, the BJP may be making a bigger impact - its candidates in Hoshiarpur, Fazilka and Pathankot have decent local connect and have a chance of being in the top two.

In Sangrur, BJP candidate Arvind Khanna is eating into the votes of Congress' Vijay Inder Singla.

BJP's Trial and Error Approach Towards Sikhs

The BJP has tried too many things in Punjab in the past 18 months or so. Soon after its break-up with the SAD on the farm laws, the party wanted to repeat the Haryana formula and consolidate all the communities except Jatt Sikhs, who they believed were the most anti-BJP. The party then promised that it would appoint a Dalit CM in Punjab.

During the farmers' movement and also following the PM's aborted visit to Punjab earlier this year, BJP supporters on social media unleashed threats against Sikhs, clearly revealing their hostility.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a number of symbolic moves aimed at Sikhs—from withdrawing the farm laws on Gurupurab, to the declaration of the martyrdom day of the two sons of Guru Gobind Singh as Veer Bal Divas. Union Home Minister Amit Shah's recent meeting with the Jathedar of the Akal Takht may further help the party in its optics.

The BJP ecosystem's policy towards Sikhs had alternated between efforts to co-opt, divide or confront.

This has left most Sikhs a bit confused, though the anger that was there during the farm laws, may have subsided a bit.

However, with the entry of a few faces from within Sikh religious bodies, such as former Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee chief Manjinder Singh Sirsa to Damdami Taksal spokesperson Sarchand Singh Bhangu, the BJP now seems to be following another tactic that it had tried earlier as well—of trying to penetrate Sikh organisations.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa, on Wednesday, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ahead of the next year's Punjab Assembly elections.

(Photo: Twitter/@mssirsa)

The party's believes that its former ally, Akali Dal, had deliberately created a wedge between the BJP and Sikhs and did nothing to quash the Akal Takht Hukamnama prohibiting Sikhs from joining RSS.

The BJP now plans to do two things: Exercise greater influence over Sikh institutions, and in the long run, become the main body for the articulation of Sikh interests on issues that don't conflict with Hindutva.

The BJP's Punjab in-charge Gajendra Singh Shekhawat's demand for the release of Sikh political prisoners needs to be seen in the context of this mission of the BJP.

However, in this election, the BJP's outreach towards Sikhs may meet only limited success. Ground inputs indicate that there has been no major shift of Sikhs towards the BJP, except in a handful of seats where the party has good candidates.


BJP's Post-Poll Game-Plan in Punjab

The best case scenario for the BJP would be to get double digit seats along with its allies and that the SAD-BSP alliance crosses 45 seats. This would mean a possible post poll alliance involving SAD, BSP, BJP, Captain, the Dhindsas, and if any Independents of smaller parties end up winning.

A post-poll alliance with the Congress is out of question. Between the AAP and SAD, the Akalis may be a better bet for the BJP as their interests don't conflict with the party outside Punjab.

However, it may be difficult to for the SAD-BSP and the BJP and its allies to together cross the halfway mark of 59.

The next best scenario for BJP then would be a hung Assembly with President's Rule in Punjab.

Irrespective of whether there's a hung Assembly or if someone forms the government, BJP's hope would be that one of the three main parties - Congress, AAP and SAD - gets decimated in the elections.

The reason for this is that then the leaders of this party, and some of the rank and file, become easy pickings for the BJP that is armed with huge financial and institutional resources.

Of course, all this is still in the realm of speculation. But one does need to admit one thing—barely three months ago, BJP seemed as if it is down and out in Punjab. It was reduced to the status of a political pariah due to the farm laws, which was no doubt a mess of its own creation.

But the fact that it is thinking of a post-poll role in Punjab, and a future as one of the main parties in the state, is in itself no small achievement for the BJP.

(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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Topics:  PM Narendra Modi   Aam Aadmi Party   sikhs 

Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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