Farmers may play decisive role in June 1 Lok Sabha polls in Punjab

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Chandigarh, March 16 (IANS) In agrarian Punjab, where Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes make up 55 per cent of the population, religion and the issues of farmers and farm labourers are likely to play a decisive role in a seemingly four-cornered contest for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the seventh and the last phase on June 1.

Amidst the speculation that the once traditional alliance partners — the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the BJP — maybe joining hands before the polls, a confident state ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is contesting the elections alone without any alliance with the opposition’s INDIA bloc, has already announced the names of eight candidates in the first list.

The Congress, which is yet to come out of the shadows after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2022 assembly elections, is facing friction within the state unit, besides the exit of senior leaders.

Political observers told IANS that if the Akali Dal and the BJP do not have any pre-poll alliance, then there would be a four-cornered contest — among the AAP, the BJP, SAD and the Congress.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the hardliner Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar (SAD-A), whose sitting MP Simranjit Singh Mann from the Sangrur seat, may also field candidates.

The BSP has announced the termination of its alliance with the Akali Dal, alleging the latter’s alignment with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Meanwhile, the candidates to whom the AAP has given tickets, are all sitting legislators, mostly ministers. On the lines of Delhi, in Punjab too the party has fielded most of the legislators.

The Ministers of Punjab whom the AAP has announced as candidates for the Lok Sabha polls are current ministers Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal from Amritsar, Laljit Singh Bhullar from Khadur Sahib, Gurmeet Singh Khudia from Bathinda, Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer from Sangrur, and Dr. Balbir Singh from Patiala.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had won eight seats, the NDA, comprising the BJP and the SAD, won four seats and the AAP one.

Out of the 13 seats, four seats are reserved for the Scheduled Caste candidates, while the remaining seats are unreserved.

BJP leader and two-time Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is in favour of an alliance of his party with the SAD, once a long-time partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Amarinder Singh in a recent interview with a news channel claimed that even Punjab BJP president Sunil Jakhar is in favour of the alliance.

Regarding the distribution of seats between both the parties, he said the matter would be discussed by the high command.

“If the BJP and the Akali Dal come together, no one can defeat us,” he claimed.

On the demands of the protesting farmers, including the legal provision of the minimum support price (MSP) for crops, Amarinder Singh said he discussed issues related to the state and the farmers with the Prime Minister.

In the last Assembly polls held in 2022, the number of SAD legislators in the 117-member House was reduced to three, down from its tally of 15 seats in 2017, its lowest ever number.

Amarinder Singh and Jakhar, both former Congress leaders, are prominent rebels.

Snapping its over two-decade long ties, the Akali Dal pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in September 2020 after sharp differences emerged over the now-repealed three controversial farm laws.

The Akali Dal was one of the oldest allies of the BJP. It was among the first to support the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the shortest Prime Minister’s stint in India’s history, in 1996.

To rebuild the beleaguered Akali Dal and prevent further exodus of its leaders, SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, who was known as the ‘Super Chief Minister’ when the party was at the helm, is on his toes.

His wife, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who held the portfolio of the Food Processing Industry in both the Modi-led Central governments, is raking up state-specific issues in Parliament.

The husband-wife duo won the parliamentary polls in 2019.

Just ahead of poll announcement, senior Congress leader, former Union minister, and four-time MP from Patiala, Preneet Kaur, joined the BJP in Delhi. She is the wife of Capt Amarinder Singh.

In another setback to the Congress, its sitting legislator Raj Kumar Chabbewal joined the AAP on Friday.

After former MLA G.P. Singh from Bassi Pathana, Chabbewal is the second Congress leader to join the AAP.

Prominent Dalit leader Chabbewal, who comes from the Doaba region, had also contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Hoshiarpur on a Congress ticket but lost to the BJP’s Som Parkash, Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry. He is likely to be fielded by the AAP from Hoshiarpur.

Punjab had recorded a voter turnout of 65.96 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The state’s Chief Electoral Officer Sibin C said Punjab has a total of 2,12,71,246 voters, including 1,19,29,959 men, 1,07,75,543 women and 744 transgender voters. A total of 24,433 polling stations have been set up for the 13 parliamentary seats.




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