Post-AAP Tsunami, What Should Be The BJP’s Gameplay In Punjab?
For the BJP to plan its gameplay, the next year and a half are critical.
The NDA should have the Akalis back in the alliance, for what they bring in the form of vote share.
The mandate for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab, with its miraculous margins, is a testament to the political disgust the electorate was harbouring for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) under Badals, the Congress under its two new deputies, Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu, both proving to be scapegoats, in hindsight, for the dismal performance of the party under Captain Amarinder Singh.
To some extent, even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a loyal second fiddle to the SAD for years, added to this disgust amongst the voters, who for long, wished for the party to seek a greater role in state’s politics. The ‘yearning for change’ meant for the BJP until 2019, was taken over by the AAP in 2022, the latter benefitting from the political hangover of the farmer protests.
The new AAP government in Punjab will be another test, after the recent events in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana and Maharashtra for the Centre-state relations.
Ignoring the dire state of the finances of Punjab, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann led by party supremo Arvind Kejriwal will splurge to fulfil their freebie promises, pushing the debt further. Before 2024, an assumption of Kejriwal or Mann blaming the Centre for not allocating enough funds to the state of Punjab is not far-fetched. In a state where there is a majority of the minority population, that is Sikhs, such political stunts will have ramifications far more dangerous than routine politics and fiscal economics.
To begin with, the BJP, as public opposition, given they have no significant presence in the state assembly, must regularly highlight the depleting condition of the state’s finances. Every penny spent on infrastructure, MSP procurement, and other welfare schemes must be communicated to the electorate. In the coming narrative wars from Punjab, the Centre must not find itself in a defensive position, as it did during the Singhu protests. Continuous scrutiny of freebie economics and its impact on state debt must also be highlighted.
For the BJP, the political bets have not paid off. Captain Amarinder Singh, amongst other stalwarts of Punjab’s politics, failed to retain their seats. However, in hindsight, it can be said that the Captain was more driven by the idea of defeating Sidhu than taking BJP’s election agenda forward. Nevertheless, the Captain would not give up on the idea of contesting from Patiala in 2024, a Lok Sabha seat currently held by his wife, Preneet Kaur.
Where does it leave the Akalis, currently facing an existential crisis? Imagine being the party that quits the ruling alliance even when they have a cabinet berth with mere two Lok Sabha seats, and then goes on to lose its loyal vote bank to a smaller party in the state, and watch its three stalwarts, including Parkash Singh Badal, lose. Akalis, who proudly walked out of the NDA alliance after switching their stance on the farm laws, are today without a political home. Alone, they do not have the brightest prospects for 2024, and beyond that, in 2027, their fate is anyone’s guess.
Should the Akalis come back to the NDA?
Managing three seats within the AAP tsunami, the SAD has retained a vote share of greater than 18 per cent. This is a loyal Jat Sikh vote share that’s a good point to start from. Factoring in the future of the Akalis, the NDA should have them back in the alliance, for what they bring in the form of vote share. An unpopular opinion, perhaps, but for the BJP, to plan its gameplay, a party with an 18 per cent vote share is not something to be dismissed. However, most importantly, it should be the NDA dictating the terms of this alliance, and not the SAD. The electorate must know who the new boss is.
For the BJP to plan its gameplay, the next year and a half are critical. If the AAP implodes, as they did after 2017, to have Captain, Akalis, several leaders like Manish Tewari or Sunil Jakhar who may defect from the Congress under Gandhis, and their own leaders fighting the 2024 election would be the obvious choice. Even if the BJP can manage four-six seats in the Lok Sabha of the 13 from the state, it would set them up well for the 2027 elections.
However, if the AAP manages to sustain the euphoria, offer some viable governance model, the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 would mean curtains for a lot of leaders, especially Badals and the Captain. If the vote share of the party sustains until 2024, the AAP would be the favourites to win at least eight-10 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2024. The BJP, then, must invest in young leaders, a new face from the soil for 2027.
For long, BJP has postponed the necessary political investment in the state. Now, with Congress imploding, the party has the opportunity to poach some credible leaders that can propagate the BJP’s election agenda on the ground. What the BJP chooses to do with the Akalis and the Captain will completely depend on how AAP manages Mann.
The previous political stalwarts of Punjab have lost, sure, but haven’t called it a day, as it must be remembered, and all of them would be looking to make a comeback in 2024, but none of them can manage it without the BJP.
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