The political scenario is changing fast in Punjab which will go to the Assembly polls in January 2017. While two major Opposition parties, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party which jointly own 57 per cent vote share are groping with factionalism, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is facing eight years of anti-incumbency.
Despite 1.36 per cent decline in its vote share during the 2014 General Elections, the BJP with 8.7 per cent vote share is eyeing to wrest power in the state. In fact, the political situation seems to be in favour of the saffron party which emerged as the strongest political party at the national level in 2014.
Though the BJP and the Akali Dal leaders have been avoiding comments on a possible alliance, sources close to the saffron party say it may go solo in the elections as the ally partner has been facing local anti-incumbency. Though BJP being an active coalition partner is part and parcel of the government but its leaders, including the four cabinet ministers, have a negligible role in decision-making.
To grab vote share of the Congress, AAP and Akali Dal, the saffron party has adopted a three-pronged strategy - grow a rural base, address the issues which concern larger part of the voters and disassociate from the controversies being faced by the tie-up partner (Akali Dal) - be it drug problem, release of convicted terrorists or state's fiscal health.
"The BJP's organisational structure in Punjab is gaining strength. The party's membership in the state has already crossed the 23 lakh mark. Whether the party will contest the elections independently or not will be decided by the central leadership. The party may contest the polls independently or with Akali Dal," the BJP national general secretary and cabinet minister Kailash Vijayvargiya said.
With just a vote share of 8.7 per cent, winning an election in Punjab may not be easy for the party which is known as an urban political party. Interestingly, the party in order to penetrate in the rural areas has roped in its mother organisation RSS.
The RSS with its Sikh unit Rashtriya Sikh Sangat has been active in the rural areas, including the villages located on the India-Pakistan border. The growing RSS clout in Punjab has set off alarm bells for the opposition parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
"Our campaign is running successfully in all Punjab districts and we are getting a tremendous response. They (SGPC, SAD and Congress) are worried as we are visiting every household and listening to their grievances. Opposition parties are worried as their workers do not visit the people. We are encouraging the people to connect to the BJP which can ensure national development. We are in a very strong position now," the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat national general secretary Raghubir Singh told Mail Today.
Meanwhile, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee is opposing the RSS on behalf of the Akali Dal while the Congress too is worried.
The Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh has warned against the RSS holding shakhas in rural areas of the state. He had said that this could lead to communal polarisation and reaction from certain quarters which can eventually threaten peace in the state.
"The RSS leadership must reconsider its decision to hold shakhas in rural areas. This move has a potential to threaten peace in Punjab as it can lead to communal polarisation," he said recently.
He also said that the BJP in Punjab cannot wriggle out at this stage even if it parts ways with the Akalis, as they have been partners in sins of omission and commission for all these years while being part of the government.
Interestingly, the saffron party is also leaving no stone unturned to woo Sikhs because Sikh Sangat campaigns are being run by Sikhs and not Hindus.
The RSS had demanded that the medium of instruction in Punjab schools up to primary level should be Punjabi. Moreover, Sikh face Navjot Singh Sidhu is being tipped as the BJP's next state chief and even a chief ministerial candidate.
The BJP, if successful in influencing the voters, may repeat the Haryana success in Punjab too. The political situation is also favourable.