India elections 2019: Amarinder, Sidhu put Congress on strong footing
The SAD continued to be the main political party for majority of the 16 million Sikhs in Punjab.
Two political parties have remained dominant in Punjab since the state's reorganisation in 1966 - Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress.
The SAD continued to be the main political party for majority of the 16 million Sikhs in Punjab, who constitute almost 60 per cent of the state population.
However, during the 2014 general elections, Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made inroads into the state, and in 2017 assembly elections the AAP made serious dents in the traditional voting patterns. Since then, Punjab has been the battlefield chiefly for these three political parties.
Panthic (religious) voting has traditionally been the main factor swaying election results in the state. If the Operation Blue Star in 1984 was Congress' undoing, the recent incidents of Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan firing have pushed the voters away from the SAD. This year, as the state prepares to go to polls on May 19, the Kartarpur Corridor and Panthic votes continue to be the core issues.
Kartarpur Corridor is at the heart of Panthic agenda and it could have helped the Bharatiya Janata Party's alliance partner SAD in Punjab. But cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister in Congress government in Punjab, has been gathering much of the credit for the move. The SAD could not even cash in on the conviction of the former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar in a 1984-anti-sikh riots case, an event that still is a raw nerve for the community.
Besides this, for a state that is often referred as the food bowl of India, agrarian issues should be the first one to be discussed in an election season. Unavailability of farm loans and distressed conditions resulting in farmer suicides are key issues. Punjab is struggling with farmers who are laden with burden of unsecured loans often resulting in suicides.
According to a report in Mint newspaper, there are 2.6 million farmers in the state but banks have issued more than four million Kisan Credit cards. Unsecured loans carry high interest rates and the inability to repay on time has pushed many into the quicksand of debt.
People in Punjab are suffering for the lack of jobs in the organised sector, just like in many other states in India, and drug abuse continues to play havoc with the lives of the people.
Of the 16 chief ministers the state has had since 1966, eight have been of the Indian National Congress and six from Shiromani Akali Dal. The Aam Aadmi Party had won four of the 13 seats in Lok Sabha elections in 2014, but later in 2017 state elections, it performed poorly. It also suffered humiliating defeats in bypolls for Gurdaspur and Shahkot.
The Congress, however, stormed to power after a gap of 10 years in 2017 with an emphatic two-thirds majority in the 117-strong state assembly. Majority of people have faith in the government led by Captain Amarinder Singh and in the absence of Modi wave in the state, it is likely that the Congress will try to consolidate its gains in the state.
The Congress party is betting on retired IAS officer Amar Singh from Fatehgarh Sahib reserved seat, Kewal Singh Dhillon from Sangrur, Mohammad Sadique from Faridkot, and Sunil Jakhar from Gurdaspur.
If last assembly elections offer a cue, the Congress has an edge over its opponents. It has a state-wide organisation, resources and a credible face like Amarinder Singh who may help bring significant seats home for the party.