Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Punjab Elections: Nothing Changed in Last 5 Years Except Ruling Party

The Congress failure to fulfil the long list of promises on which it won the last elections has badly dented its image.
punjab election

The political situation in Punjab a few weeks before the 16th Assembly elections has been undergoing a dramatic, though not unexpected, change in the response of the people towards ruling Congress.

Frequent defections of Congress leaders to the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), rising dissatisfaction of the people with the regime, the Enforcement Directorate raid on chief minister (CM) Charanjit Singh Channi’s nephew have affected the people’s faith in the grand old party.

These developments, the rampant corruption in the state and Congress factionalism have severely hit the party’s image among voters with the government facing a major anti-incumbency wave.

On the other hand, the AAP’s victory in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls in December has boosted the morale of its leaders and workers. The Shiromani Akali Dal could not come out of its existential crisis after facing the voter’s ire because of its misdeeds during its rule in Punjab (2007-17). The SAD was routed in the 2017 Assembly elections due to voter dissatisfaction, large-scale corruption, mismanagement and widespread anger against the Badal clan.

With the SAD losing credibility and the Congress plagued by problems, the AAP could become the voter’s alternative choice.

Captain Amarinder Singh became CM for second time on March 16, 2017, with an unprecedented victory on the promises he made to the electorate. Given the anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP alliance in 10 years and the organisational crisis/controversies in the AAP, the Congress easily won the election under his command.

Sadly, after four-and-a-half years, Singh miserably failed to fulfil the promises—address the agrarian crisis, provide employment to each household, maintain law and order, control corruption, illegal sand and liquor trade, drug smuggling and addiction, punish persons who had disrespected the Guru Granth Sahib, hold the bureaucracy accountable, and not interference in the working of grass-root institutions, etc.

The non-fulfilment of these promises made state Congress leaders jittery and they started anticipating the fate of the party and the government in the coming days. Ultimately, it caused discontent among the legislators and party leaders against Singh’s leadership.

Reminding Singh of the oath he had taken on the holy book of Sikhs at a public rally during the poll campaign in 2017, Congress MLA and former hockey captain Pargat Singh wrote a four-page letter to Singh mentioning his government’s style of working, the alleged cover-up of corruption, drug menace, disrespect to Guru Granth Sahib and the flourishing illegal liquor and sand trade.

At this rally, Singh had promised to eliminate the most serious challenges Punjab ever faced within a given timeframe. However, he backtracked from these promises either because of political compulsions or having become a structural victim of the administrative machinery or lack of political will.

The Congress leaders continuously reminded Singh of his fight against corruption in his previous tenure (2002-2007) when he sent high-profile bureaucrats and prominent politicians to jail. In his second term, the state machinery had lost its shine, they said. The leaders also questioned his style of working, which according to them, was one of the reasons for the party’s declining popularity. The leaders warned the CM, who was inaccessible to his MLAs and party workers, that if corrective measures were not taken and the promises were not fulfilled, the future of the Congress in the state would be at peril.

Subsequently, Singh was unceremoniously removed following an ugly and long confrontation with MLA and former international cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu and replaced by Channi, who took oath less than four months before the elections. The selection of the first Dalit CM of the state was not only surprising but also considered a Congress masterstroke mean to regain its declining popularity and support and neutralise the anti-incumbency.

A 2017 CSDS survey (graph below) showed why voters rejected the SAD-BJP government and gave another chance to the Congress. The largest number of the respondents, 20%, said that unemployment was their major concern whereas 18% regarded development as the most important issue. The problem of drug addiction was the third most major concern at 13%. Religious and other issues, like corruption, were not the major concerns of voters.

Source: CSDS, Data Unit

Source: CSDS, Data Unit

The survey (bar graph below) also showed the respondents’ full faith in Singh’s leadership with him being the top choice of voters for the first time—the reason was their belief in his ability to fulfil the long list of promises.

data chart2Source: CSDS, Data Unit

Source: CSDS, Data Unit

People’s opinion on misdeeds of SAD-BJP regime (2012-17)


Source: CSDS, Data Unit

Drugs and hooliganism, corruption, and illegal sand and liquor trade were the key issues in the 2017 elections. Time and again, the halqa (constituency)-in-charge Akalis, MLAs, controversial ministers and close relatives of top party leaders were accused by the Opposition of being in collusion with drug dealers and illegal sand and liquor trade. The survey (bar graph above) showed 75% of the respondents agreed that the problem of drug addiction had increased in the last five years whereas 82% said that hooliganism had spurted.

The respondents also felt that corruption, nepotism, factionalism and drug addiction was highest during the SAD-BJP rule at 26%, 36%, 23% and 50% respectively (bar graph below).


Source: CSDS, Data Unit

Therefore, the SAD had lost credibility among the common people. The issue of not addressing the issue of beadbi (disrespect) to the holy book was another major reason for the SAD’s defeat. Panthic and religious issues had always been the major planks of the Akalis but the government failed to respect the sentiments of the Sikh religion.

The Singh and Channi too have failed on many fronts and not come true to the expectations of the masses. The outcome of the 2017 elections was a lesson that the traditional agendas and working patterns will not work and a government will need to work on development. Voters demand good governance and decent economic opportunities. They cannot be fooled by postponing the agendas for an indefinite period.

The general perception is that nothing has changed in Punjab except the Congress replacing the Akalis. In this situation, the AAP could have an upper hand in the elections.

The writer is a retired professor of political science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram