The Modi government’s move to repeal the three farm laws has queered the Punjab election pitch. Of the five election-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, the largely agrarian state of Punjab will be directly impacted by the move.
This will be the first election which will present a four-cornered fight in Punjab. Barring 2017 election which saw the political debut of Aam Aadmi Party, Punjab has been largely a bipolar polity with Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine alternating power almost every five year. In the 2017 election, the ruling SAD-BJP alliance was routed and Captain Amarinder Singh steered Congress to an overwhelming victor cornering 77 seats in in the 117-member Assembly. AAP emerged as the second largest party with 20 seats and SAD-BJP finished third with 18 seats.
The 2022 elections will present a fairly different picture – Captain Amarinder Singh, who has walked out of the Congress, is eyeing an alliance with BJP especially since his pre-condition of farm law repeal has been acceded to. Though BJP has been politically insignificant in Punjab, the climbdown will end the social boycott of state BJP leaders and help the party present a credible front aligning with Captain Amarinder Singh. SAD has entered into an alliance with BSP. AAP will be the third angle in this fight and incumbent Congress the fourth.
While the move may not mean big electoral gains for BJP since it has never been a reliable option in Punjab, the move has successfully neutralised the main poll plank of SAD and to a large extent the Congress. The farmers agitation had seen mobilisation of farmers from every village in Punjab. Every family was asked to send one person to participate in the agitation or deposit compensation in local gurudwara in case no member could be present. “Each family had to send a person or face social boycott. Nobody took the option of giving financial compensation. This was like a matter of prestige,” said a Punjab Congress leader. BJP, which has a dedicated votebank of Hindus in pockets of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Pathankot, was seen pitted against Sikh protesters. With the farm laws being repealed, it will now be a tough task for SAD, Congress and AAP to still stick with the farmers issue which now largely remains minimum support price fixation.