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Why the action on Punjab's political battlefront is far from over

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 5 May 2017, 17:46 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

With the Assembly polls done and dusted, and with the new government getting a little more comfortable in the driver’s seat, all major political forces in the state have decided to go in for an organisational revamp.

The reason for this common move is simple: five municipal corporation elections loom ahead in the prime cities of Patiala, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Bhatinda. Now, strengthening their holds on their voter base has become the primary goal for the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

A new face

The Congress has appointed senior party leader Sunil Jakhar as the new president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC). The appointment brings him back to the centrestage of Punjab politics after maintaining a low profile over the last couple of months following his loss in the recent state assembly polls from the Abohar seat.

It is likely that that his Jakhar was picked in order to project a Hindu face, so that the party can try and consolidate the Hindu voters who dominate the urban centres of Punjab.

This is particularly important as a large chunk of the Hindu voters, mainly small traders, shifted their loyalties from the BJP towards the Congress in the recent assembly polls.

Brahm Mahindra’s appointment as a cabinet minister was the first move by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to give due representation to the Hindu community and now Jakhar's appointment is expected to further consolidate the support base.

It is after a gap of two decades that a non-Sikh has been elevated to the post. The last PPCC presidents from the community were Virendra Kataria and Ambika Soni for a brief while in the mid-‘90s. During Amarinder’s last tenure, Shamsher Singh Dullo had led the party. Sources say that Dullo's office at that time was seen as a parallel power centre in the Congress. This time around Jakhar's appointment has the stamp of Amarinder's approval and has been accepted by the party high command.

Challenges ahead

The first challenge for Jakhar would be to see the party emerge victorious in the local body elections and continue the Congress’ winning spree. A large number of Congress leaders were earlier in favour of preponing the local body elections contending that the public mood was in favour of the Congress which was reflected in the assembly polls where the party stands one seat short of a two third majority.

With Amarinder having declared that this is his last political innings, the party needs a good organisational structure in place for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls also. 

Jakhar was the leader of opposition in the last assembly and was removed from the post a year ahead of the polls. He is particularly remembered for taking on the Akali-BJP combine over the halqa in-charge system put in place wherein the local Akali leaders treated the constituencies as their fiefdoms exerting total control over the police. It was expected that he would be nominated to the Rajya Sabha, but it never happened.

The Akali churn

On the other hand, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has also dissolved the existing organisational structure of the party with a motive to 'strengthen and reconstitute it for giving more responsibilities to hard working leaders and workers of the party'. The recent assembly polls had seen many opportunists within the party ranks deserting to join the Congress or AAP. More recently, a large number of them have also been adopting a hardline on different issues.

SAD secretary and former education minister Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema said that after the Punjab assembly elections Sukhbir had discussions with leadership at different levels and felt that in order to strengthen the party from grass root level up to the top, its organisational structure needs to be reconstituted.

Cheema further said the party has deputed some senior leaders to various zones who will hold meetings in districts of their zones and submit lists of hardworking and dedicated leaders within the next one month. He has underlined that those found guilty of indulging in anti party activities will not be given any representation and will face action.

He said that two leaders will be attached to the zonal in-charges and these three member teams will visit districts falling under their jurisdiction and submit reports by 30 May to the party president.

The AAP shakeup

Meanwhile, AAP too is set for an organisational restructuring in the state. AAP cadres stand disheartened by the loss in the assembly polls as many expected to form the government. The party leadership has been trying to ascertain the cause for the loss. The recent developments at Delhi too have added to their low morale.

There has been a demand for an autonomous state unit that is not dictated by the leaders from Delhi. Reports suggest that the party might have a state president instead of the ongoing arrangement of a convener and party in-charge from outside. The names doing the rounds for the state president are that of Sangrur MP and AAP's star campaigner in the recent polls Bhagwant Mann and senior leader Sukhpal Khaira.

In a recent interview, Mann had pointed that the party lost the state polls because of some 'historical blunders'. He had said that party contested the polls like playing 'Mohalla Cricket' without naming the captain of the team.

AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal is reportedly expected to meet AAP MLAs from Punjab in New Delhi on May 8 to discuss the restructuring of the state unit. He is expected to hold one-on-one meetings with the MLAS besides seeking their collective opinion on party matters.

Observers say that AAP leadership has to put its house in order soon if it wants to make a mark in the forthcoming local body elections as well as the Gurdaspur parliamentary by-poll expected over the next few months. The sea fell vacant after the demise of the BJP MP Vinod Khanna.

Clearly, the action on the Punjab political front is far from over.

First published: 5 May 2017, 16:19 IST