The results of the Punjab Assembly polls will be known on 11 March. In the meantime, we look at the facts so that readers can decide for themselves if Punjabis can hope for a more stable and better future. Punjab is a much divided state in many ways
There are over 1.9 crore (19 million) registered voters. Of these 1.05 crore are men and about 94 lakh women. The difference between men and women voters is not that large. There are 1,145 candidates from 15 political parties contesting for 117 seats. Yet, there are only 81 women candidates i.e. 7% of total candidates in a socio-political system dominated by men.
Of the 117 seats, 34 are reserved for the so called Scheduled Castes. So, only 83 seats are for general candidates. The main parties have fielded candidates in the following order: Congress 116; Aam Aadmi Party: 112; Shromani Akali Dal SAD 94 & BJP 23 (Akali-BJP total 117); and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 110.
There is an interesting analysis by Harinder Singh of US: “….caste and religion play a big role throughout India, including Panjab. So, let’s understand the religion factor in Panjab: 58% Sikhs, 38.5% Hindus, 1.9% Muslims, 1.3% Christians, and 0.6% Others and non-religious. Essentially, 6 out of 10 voters are Sikhs.” As for caste, “32% Scheduled Castes, 22% Other Backward Castes, 21% Jatts (separated from Scheduled Castes to highlight their vote bank), 20% Upper Castes (Brahmins, Khatris, Banias, Tkahurs, and Rajputs), 4% Others (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains). Effectively, 3 out of 4 voters are from so called “low-castes.”
So, here we have a hotch-potch of religion, caste and politics. This time, it is mainly a three way contest between ruling Akali Dal-BJP alliance, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. S Parkash Singh Badal’s administration is blamed for the desperate condition of the farmers, unemployment, massive increase of drug abuse, corruption in police and administration, mismanagement of Punjab economy, losing the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal case in the Spreme Court against Haryana, direct or indirect involvement in transport and liquor business, interference in and exploitation of Sikh religious institutions and sentiment including issues such as the desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and seeking the support of anti-Sikhi cults like Dera Sacha Sauda.
According to reports, even in S Badal’s own constituency, Lambi, where he is contesting against Capt. Amarinder Singh, “the law is broken all the time whether it is in road construction, water supply, the distribution of lethal drugs……. It is the law of the jungle here…”.
Akali-BJP coalition can suffer from the backlash against Modi goverment’s demonetisation or ‘note-bandi’ – withdrawal of Rs 500 and 1,00 rupee notes – which hit small businesses, caused widespread disruption and chaos while the poorer people suffered throughout India. Too often, the main parties also play the Khalistan card.
The Aam Aadmi Party can gain from general disaffection with traditional main parties in Punjab. The emergence of a leading figure in politics like H S Foolka can be an interesting experiment for Punjab. However, the future of the state depends on the political maturity of the voters.
Gurmukh Singh OBE