Win or a washout: Why Punjab polls were a heavy loss-making enterprise for BJP
No matter what the final results are on 11 March for the Punjab Assembly polls, one thing is for sure that these polls have proved to be a heavy loss-making enterprise for the BJP.
It may be argued that the BJP never had much of a stake in the polls given the fact that it was fighting as the junior ally of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) having fielded just 23 candidates out of a total 117 in an alliance. But, the outcome is surely going to get the party leadership, at both the state and the central level, to re-think its priorities and strategy in the days to come.
The exit polls have predicted a massive rout for the alliance with most of the polling agencies prophesying that the SAD-BJP combine might not even touch the double digit mark – which is a massive decline.
Although it was the rage and anti-incumbency at work against the Akalis, the BJP also took a major hit and will continue to do so. In terms of its performance, the number of MLAs that the BJP has been sending to the state Assembly has been on the decline over the last one decade which is contrary to the party's performance across the country where the graph has been on the ascent.
In Punjab, the BJP had recorded it best ever performance in 2007 when its candidates won 19 of the 23 seats that they had contested. The figure had come down to a 12 in the last Assembly polls and is expected to go lower this time.
At the ideological level, these elections had presented a dilemma for the RSS cadres as well as the BJP supporters as they were faced with two piquant situations –
– Whether to have a 'Congress Mukt Punjab' that goes with the RSS endeavour of having a Congress-free India
– To have an 'Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) yukt Punjab' something that they abhor given the party's historical rout in Delhi, AAP's national Convenor Arvind Kejriwal locking horns with the RSS' poster boy Narendra Modi and AAP threatening to emerge as a national-level force by 2019.
One thing was clear during the height of the poll campaign in Punjab: The middle-level and lower-level Hindu trader who had been the backbone of BJP's support base had made up his mind not to vote for the SAD-BJP alliance.
This trader was annoyed with the 'high-handed approach' of the Akalis and to make matters worse, had been the worst hit by the demonetisation brought about by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This class of voters had ensured BJP's success in the semi-urban and urban Punjab from where the party had been reaping electoral dividends over the last several years.
It remains to be seen to whom this support-base has shifted. But sources say that they have largely voted for the Congress because they were sceptical of a new force in the fray – the AAP.
What after a (possible) rout?
In the post result scenario, the BJP will also have to ponder over the question of expanding its base in the state.
Its cadres have for long been demanding that the party come out of the alliance with the Akalis and go solo. They feel it is high time that the party expands its base in rural Punjab and start contesting on those seats.
The sentiment among this group of BJP workers and supporters is that the Akalis have confined them just to some of the Hindu-dominated urban constituencies and does not want the party to get a hold in the rural landscape which dominates Punjab.
There are also certain voices that contradict the RSS' reasoning for having an alliance with the Akalis to promote nationalist sentiment among the people of this border state that is dominated by a religious minority.
There is also a point of view that the party's national leadership has not been much bothered about Punjab and had already given up on the poll prospects of the alliance.
“This was evident from the lesser number of rallies that Modi and party president Amit Shah addressed in Punjab. Even during his visits prior to the announcement of the polls, Modi did not announce any financial package or other sops for Punjab. Instead, they played up the fall out of the surgical strikes by ordering vacations in villages along the international border while aiming for electoral gains in Uttar Pradesh,” said a senior media person.
The BJP supporters point out that it was the lopsided approach to the issues being aired by the party workers and leaders that eventually resulted in the loss of Navjot Singh Sidhu who was, until a few months back, a prominent face for the BJP, and that too a Sikh one.
“It was his wife and MLA Navjot Kaur who had been calling for a break-up in the alliance with the Akalis. He was the most vocal in pointing out how the Akalis were humiliating the BJP leadership in the state while not allowing them to work for the people of their respective constituencies. But the leaders chose to ignore them,” said a BJP worker.
Even when it came to allocation of tickets, the BJP had failed to come out as a united force with its state president Vijay Sampla reportedly expressing his displeasure at the candidates being fielded. But he fell in line after a reprimand from the central leadership.
Political observers have also pointed out how Sampla's predecessor Kamal Sharma refrained from contesting because he apprehended that he would not be considered as a candidate for the seat he wanted to contest and this could be embarrassing in the long run.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen