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Fourth front in Punjab? Political forums everywhere but nothing concrete

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 28 September 2016, 11:44 IST

Punjab has witnessed the sprouting of multiple political forums in the recent past. But the continuing efforts to cobble up a fourth political front to enter the electoral fray for the forthcoming Assembly polls is yet to produce concrete results.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are the established political forces in the state, but efforts to form a fourth alternative before the people is now a race against time. This is despite the fact that the forces that can shape a fourth front have a broad common agenda.

The new forums

The state has witnessed many new political forums mushroom recently.

1. Awaaz-e-Punjab: The most prominent of these is the Awaaz-e-Punjab floated by cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, hockey Olympian Pargat Singh and the independent MLA Bains brothers (Balwinder and Simarjit). The forum has tried to see if it can be turned into a political party, but for now, the leaders have decided to let it be a forum inviting like-minded people who want to work for Punjab.

2. Dharamvira Gandhi's forum: Another forum is led by the suspended AAP MP from Patiala, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi. He has been a vocal AAP critic despite representing the same party. He is desperate to see a fourth front emerge. However, he is in a precarious situation since he's a sitting MP, which would be a hurdle in him joining a new political party if it comes into existence.

3. Pehlan Punjab Lok Hit Abhiyan: This is yet another forum floated by former firebrand Congress leader Jagmeet Singh Brar, who was recently thrown out of the party.

4. Democratic Swaraj Party: This has umbilical ties to the Swaraj Abhiyan led by former AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. This organisation is also very keen on providing a political alternative to the people of Punjab, who have been 'let down' by AAP.

The AAP factor

All these players have a broad common minimum agenda, and that is to address the regional aspirations of the people of the state, something which the Akalis traditionally claimed to be doing, but had largely diverged from.

In fact people like Gandhi and his associates and members of the Swaraj Party are the ones who were once at the core of AAP in the state. They are the ones who have been attacking the AAP for imposing leadership from outside the state on the cadres in Punjab, while also attacking AAP's central leadership for its dictatorial attitude.

The Awaaz-e-Punjab leadership has been attacking the Akalis and the Congress for failing to address regional concerns. Ironically, Sidhu has recently gone soft on AAP, after attacking it in the forum's first briefing.

Having burnt his bridges with the Congress, Brar has been warming up to the AAP leadership, expressing keen interest to be a part of the party's effort at winning the Punjab polls. He has appreciated Sidhu for not making Awaaz-e-Punjab a political party.

All these forces have been talking in terms of working for Punjabis and 'Punjabiyat', which they claim has been ignored by the three key players.

Punjabis vs non-Punjabis

The issue of Punjabis versus non-Punjabis has come to underline the political matrix of the state over the last more than one month, particularly since the removal of AAP's former state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur from his post.

Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh and SAD too have tried to cash in on the issue in a tacit manner by attacking AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, branding him a 'Haryanvi' and an outsider who is not sympathetic towards the interests of Punjab.

Chhotepur remains another key factor in the possibility of the emergence of a fourth political front. After his face off with AAP leadership, he has travelled the state extensively, sending the signal that he and his associates are keen to enter the electoral fray. He has been going hammer and tongs at the AAP leadership.

Observers say that it needs to be seen whether he would prefer to be a part of a fourth front, or would he like to go in for some kind of arrangement with the Congress, given his close association with Amarinder in the past, and the latter's overtures to him after he was removed from his post by AAP.

Resolutions at Gandhi's forum

It is in such a scenario that Gandhi had convened a round table conference on Sunday that saw representation from HS Kingra, a close associate of Chhotepur, Pargat Singh, in his 'individual capacity', and representatives from the Democratic Swaraj Party, including its senior leader, Professor Manjit Singh.

Representatives of AAP's splinter volunteers group in Amritsar and Apna Punjab Party also participated in the deliberations.

However, there was no participation from either the mainstream Left parties - the CPI and CPI(M) - or the BSP.

After the three-hour meeting, Gandhi announced the resolutions of the participants. It was resolved to work for sorting out all outstanding issues in Punjab, including that of its capital, merger of Punjabi speaking areas, and rights over Punjab's own resources, including its river waters.

There was a resolution to democratise and harmonise Punjabi society through a 'Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission', to bring into open the facts that have been hidden from the people till now, right from the beginning, including details on the militancy etc.

Another resolution aimed to end all discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. The participants also resolved to democratise Punjab by 'ridding it of its police of criminals; and police and bureaucracy of extra-constitutional political interference by putting in place a mechanism based on Supreme Court recommendations and people's wishes'.

The participants at the round table also agreed to work out a mission statement for scientific and modern solutions to all outstanding, economic, social and other issues like agriculture crisis, unemployment, drug menace and those pertaining to health, education and industry. It was also decided to select people to design a vision document that would be released at a convention later.

Just an academic exercise?

While these right-sounding noises are being made by people with a reasonable clout at an individual level, what needs to be seen is whether they can come together to stitch a political alliance that can take on the other three players in the forthcoming elections, and return victorious at least on a reasonable number of seats, so that they can persuade the government to work on these issues.

Veteran political analyst Jagtar Singh said: "Preparing for elections in such a short time is not an easy task. The first and foremost is the selection of the right candidates. Then, the infrastructure that has to be put in place up to the booth level. These are the practical problems. Vision papers are different from practical politics. The first step is cobbling up a viable front."

Whether the fourth front emerges in time to contest the polls remains to be seen. Otherwise, this will prove to be yet another academic exercise in realpolitik.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 28 September 2016, 11:44 IST