Are regional parties losing their sway over the Punjab, Haryana political landscape?

by IANS |

Chandigarh, May 22 (IANS) Are patriarch-dominated regional parties losing their grip on the Punjab and Haryana electoral battleground in these parliamentary polls? Ground reports suggest that it seems to be the case.

In Punjab, the century-old regional outfit Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which has been raising a ‘panthic’ (Sikh) and pro-Punjab pitch, is struggling to retain its vote bank, largely in rural areas.

In Haryana, the legacy of former Deputy Prime Minister and the state’s tallest Jat leader, Chaudhary Devi Lal who, with his family ruled the state’s dusty and defection-ridden politics for decades, is shrinking owing to the family feud.

After the feud within the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), five-time Chief Minister OP Chautala’s grandson Dushyant split the party vertically in 2018 and formed the JJP.

In 2019, the JJP extended support to the BJP to form the government in the state and just ahead of the parliamentary polls, it withdrew its support.

In Punjab, which will be electing its 13 Members of Parliament in the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls on June 1, there is more or less a triangular contest between the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a clean sweep after winning 92 of the 117 Assembly seats in 2022, the main Opposition Congress and the BJP.

The BJP is in the parliamentary fray alone for the first time since the Akali Dal snapped its nearly three-decade-long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 over the contentious, now-repealed farm laws.

For 10 seats in BJP-ruled Haryana, the main contest is between the saffron party and the AAP-backed Congress.

In the 2019 General Elections, the Congress-led UPA won the maximum -- eight seats -- in Punjab, while the BJP-led NDA managed to secure victory on four seats -- two each for the BJP and the SAD. The AAP was restricted to just one seat.

In neighbouring Haryana, which will go to the polls on May 25, the BJP had won all 10 constituencies in 2019, improving its tally from 2014 when it managed to win seven out of the eight constituencies it had contested.

In Punjab, Sukhbir Badal-led SAD is in the fray on all 13 seats. On the ground, he aggressively toured all 13 parliamentary constituencies under the banner ‘Punjab Bachao Yatra (Save Punjab March)’ to reclaim lost traditional ground with focus on “regional identity”.

Throughout the march, which covered nearly 3,200 km across 80 Assembly constituencies, Badal targeted the Congress and AAP by calling them outsiders and said Delhi-based parties have never let Punjab’s interests prevail.

Political observers told IANS still the fractured Akali Dal, which marked its centennial in 2021, is facing its worst crisis “structurally, organisationally, and even in terms of ideological leadership”.

Firmly believing the farmers’ issue relates to the overall national interest, Akali Dal’s rival parties have been slamming it for not only supporting the controversial agricultural laws initially in 2020, but also misguiding the Centre by allegedly giving wrong feedback about the Bills.

More importantly, the Akali Dal will be contesting the polls under the leadership of Sukhbir Badal for the first time since his father and the tallest leader of state politics Parkash Singh Badal, who had impeccable secular credentials, passed away at the age of 95 on April 25, 2023.

In Haryana, both regional outfits -- the INLD and its fledging JJP -- bank heavily on their traditional Jat votes, comprising 28 per cent of the state’s population.

This time, their “sinking ships” face a tough contest from the Congress, led by prominent Jat leader and two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. However, the BJP is banking on non-Jat votes.

Amid the exodus of its office-bearers, including Haryana unit President Nishan Singh, JJP National President Ajay Chautala has expressed “willingness” to reunite with the parent party.

However, his younger brother and INLD Secretary General Abhay Chautala, has expressed strong opposition to their ‘homecoming”.

In a video on X, Abhay Chautala, the party’s lone MLA who is in the fray for the Lok Sabha polls from Kurukshetra, said there was no place for those who had broken the party and brought a bad name to late Chaudhary Devi Lal.

“The JJP, a junior ruling partner in the BJP-led Haryana government, had plundered the state with both hands and now stands exposed,” he added.

The Chautala clan in the poll arena is Abhay and Sunaina as INLD candidates and Naina, the mother of former Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant.

The BJP has fielded Devi Lal’s youngest son Ranjit Singh against his two ‘bahus’ -- Naina and Sunaina – from Hisar.

The INLD, which ruled the state the last time from 2000 to 2004, was divided owing to differences between Ajay and Abhay Chautala. Their father remained with the younger son.

The INLD has an alliance with its oldest ally the SAD. Saying that the JJP is the real representative of the legacy of Devi Lal, Dushyant, who has been campaigning mainly for his mother Naina, in his public addresses, is focussing on the youth with a promise of more job opportunities.

Like the BJP the JJP, too, has been facing the anger of farmers and the party is defending itself by saying that the protests are being staged by their opponents.

Dushyant’s image took a hit this time as he failed to implement one of his top poll promises related to old-age pension made ahead of the 2019 Assembly elections.

In these elections, the INLD is banking more on its patriarch OP Chautala, who was released from Tihar Jail on July 2, 2021, after serving nine-and-a-half-years of a 10-year prison sentence.

For Sukhbir Badal, who’s trying hard to make up for the absence of the senior Badal in Bathinda, the only hope is to retain the party's traditional bastion Bathinda, but by a whisker.

He’s devoting “extra time” to ensure the victory of his wife and sitting MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who’s known as Biba (good and pretty girl).

Harsimrat Kaur Badal is fighting an anti-incumbency sentiment that has gathered strength over the last 15 years at a time when her party has been out of power in the state since the 2017 Assembly elections.

After thwarting foes within, seasoned Haryana Congress politician Bhupinder Hooda is donning his battle gear once again to lead the party to victory.

Looking to woo 65 per cent of the population that lives in rural areas, on an average everyday Hooda is aggressively trying to reach out to the masses up to panchayats.

Not missing an opportunity, Hooda is building up a campaign by saying that more and more youths are falling in the trap of drugs and crime due to the faulty policies of the BJP-JJP government.

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