With the elections to the Punjab Assembly just four months away, the political situation in the state is witnessing interesting twists and turns. The determined efforts being made by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the plans to forge a fourth front have added to the political drama unfolding in Punjab.
Ever since the re-organisation of states 50 years ago, when modern Punjab's boundary was drawn, it has been a straight, two-way contest between the Congress and alliance partners Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After AAP's debut win of four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the party became the third major force in Punjab and a three-cornered contest was on the cards in the ensuing Assembly elections.
AAP, however, has been lunging from one crisis to another. Last year, two of its four MPs rebelled and have been speaking against it and its leader Arvind Kejriwal. Following Kejriwal's flap with leaders like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, a section of the state unit of the party also split and joined Yadav.
The troubles for the party escalated when the time came for selecting candidates. Its decision to keep the state leaders out of selection process led to the AAP's state convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur leading a revolt that ultimately led to his sacking on charges of accepting money from prospective candidates. The expected entry of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who could have provided the party a Sikh face, too did not take place.
The party was first off the blocks to announce candidates in phases. However, it had to put on hold the announcements after releasing two lists totalling 32 candidates following dissidence. Questions have been raised over the background and suitability of 25 of these candidates. Although Kejriwal has been spending time in the state to steady the rocking boat of AAP, it would need concerted efforts to keep it in the reckoning.
After the expectations raised by the possibility of Sidhu forming, a fourth front ended in a damp squib, efforts are now being made by disgruntled leaders of various parties, including those thrown out from them, to forge a new front.
In the forefront of these efforts is the sacked state convenor of AAP, Chhotepur, and one of the rebel party MPs, Dharamvira Gandhi. They are seeking the support of those unhappy with their parties, such as the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Pargat Singh, who recently resigned from his party.
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They are also seeking the support of Sidhu who had declared that he would not like to play spoilsport. "We shall not confuse the people of Punjab but give them clarity to vote in Punjab's interest. We will not divide the anti-incumbency vote bank, which could benefit the corroborative and collusive Badal-Amarinder nexus that has plundered Punjab in the last 15 years".
Their own effort to forge a fourth front was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Sidhu had appeared very tentative in his approach after the unexpected and surprising resignation from Rajya Sabha to which he was nominated under the eminent sportspersons category. He finally chickened out by saying that he would not form any party, but would do anything to end the "Badal-Amarinder nexus".
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh have, predictably, ridiculed Sidhu and his Awaaz-e-Punjab and said he better fits a comedy show. However, Sidhu's assertion that the time left for election was too little to float a new party did have merit and the efforts being made to forge a fourth front too are likely to suffer on this count.The SAD-BJP alliance, battling strong anti-incumbency, is silently drawing up its strategy.
A massive publicity campaign has been mooted by the coalition government through print and electronic media to drum up its "achievements" over the last one decade of its rule. It is also banking heavily on the split of anti-incumbency votes among Congress, AAP and the proposed fourth front.
Congress, guided by election strategist Prashant Kishor, is awaiting its first major challenge when its list of candidates is announced. A record over 1600 candidates have applied for the 117 tickets and, with so many hopefuls, there is bound to be rebellion among a section of leaders. Captain Amarinder Singh is cleverly assuring all and sundry that they would also be "adjusted" after the party comes to power.
With all the major parties declaring that they would announce candidates well in advance, and most likely in October, the stage will soon be set for one of the most exciting elections in the state.