Farm Laws Repealed: BJP’s Brave Political Bet For Punjab Assembly Elections

Tushar Gupta

Nov 24, 2021, 06:11 PM | Updated 06:03 PM IST

Prime Minister Modi speaking at an event in Punjab.
Prime Minister Modi speaking at an event in Punjab.
  • If reforms have to take a backseat for politics, then the BJP might as well bet on some actual masterstrokes.
  • Following the shocking announcement last week, the Narendra Modi cabinet has cleared the bill to repeal the farm laws in the upcoming session of Parliament. While there is no word from the protesting farmers as to when and if the roads would be cleared, the government appears to be in a haste to get the three critical laws out of the political equation, especially ahead of the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab amongst other states.

    Captain Amarinder Singh (CAS), after his humiliating exit from the Congress, publicly stated that he would be happy to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab if a favourable resolution to the farmers’ protest was worked out. While the BJP caved in from the pressure of the 'sinister six' (more about it here), it has perhaps staked a bit too much on the reform front for too little gains on the political front.

    With respect to the Punjab Assembly elections, Congress’ fortunes now rest on the new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. Favourite to secure the Dalit vote bank, 10 Janpath would trust him to give them an edge in the upcoming elections. However, there is news of an underlying political current favouring the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

    No one can question the spectacular start AAP had in Punjab in 2014 with four out of the 13 state MPs in the Lok Sabha. They also emerged as the biggest party in opposition in 2017, but the party’s fall in the state was reflected in the national elections of 2019 where the total vote share of the party was merely 7.3 per cent. Now, how the party can go to a vote share of more than 33 per cent from 7.3 per cent is a question that is best left to time.

    But where does it leave the other four parties?

    The Dalit vote bank will be skewed towards the Congress and a negligible share of it towards Bahujan Samaj PArty (BSP), the Jat Sikhs would want to side with either CAS or the Akalis, and the Hindus would either vote for the AAP or CAS/BJP. Therefore, a hung assembly is what one should bet on for Punjab in 2022.

    This is where the ‘masterstroke’ (beginning to not like that word) comes into play.

    BJP’s political fortunes are almost unchanged, even after the repealing of the laws, for even in the best case scenario, they can elevate themselves to the position of a pseudo-kingmaker by virtue of the government they run at the Centre.

    However, for the BJP, there is an added incentive in raising the bet and playing along with CAS, Akalis and BSP to form the government in Punjab, for if it can be accomplished by Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP in Maharashtra, it can be accomplished anywhere.

    One, the hung assembly prospects are quite high. Even with their undercurrent, the AAP cannot be expected to win 59 seats, the majority mark, today. At best, they could get to 35-40 seats, assuming their campaign is not derailed by the state unit’s internal quarrels, as was the case in 2017. Also, will Punjab vote for the eccentric Bhagwant Mann, the obvious AAP face in the state, as their chief minister?

    Two, Channi, even with his new-found energy and the benefit of a humble background, is constrained by the state unit’s own issues. Navjot Singh Sidhu’s political and verbal volatility is a liability for the Congress in Punjab, and coupled with his unexplained love and admiration for Pakistan, it is a shortcut to electoral disaster. For Congress, the challenge would also be to accommodate Sidhu along with Channi, consequently angering, for sure, either the Jat Sikh or Dalit vote bank.

    Three, all the four factions, that is Captain’s Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), BSP, BJP, or SAD are not in any position to win 59 seats alone. Even as alliances, that is PLC and BJP, and SAD and BSP, getting to the halfway-mark will be a long shot. Akalis continue to carry the baggage from their reign of 10 years between 2007 and 2017 when corruption was rampant and development was invisible. Even in 2019, the Akali phenomenon was restricted to their home seats alone.

    Thus, the masterstroke arrangement here is if these four factions can find a way to put together a government, a prospect better than a hung assembly or one where the AAP offers outside support to Channi's faction.

    The only challenge would be to accommodate the stalwarts of Punjab, that is the Badals and Captain Amarinder Singh. However, if both these factions choose to view their political futures from a realistic lens, the rationality would be in working together rather than working against each other.

    BJP would have to manage this accommodation, and get CAS to handle the state, and have Akalis back in the Centre, with a cabinet berth, perhaps. Ironically, after all the political mess the state has been through, it would restore the status quo that existed before the farm laws were introduced and that is what the BJP should be betting on for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections.

    If reforms have to take a backseat for politics, then the BJP might as well bet on some actual masterstrokes.

    Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_

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