The political landscape in Punjab is witnessing a seismic shift as major parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Indian National Congress, on Sunday declared their decisions to go solo in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The failure of pre-poll alliances, coupled with the breakdown of talks between the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has sent ripples across the State's political spectrum — with the state set to witness quadrangular electoral contest.
In a series of significant announcements, national heads of both AAP and Congress — Arvind Kejriwal and Mallikarjun Kharge respectively — addressed separate party events in Punjab on Sunday. Kejriwal announced AAP’s decision to contest all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab independently, while Kharge echoed similar sentiments, asking the party workers in Punjab to start preparing for solo contests.
In addition, Punjab Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring also declared that party would contest independently on all 13 seats with the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Partap Singh Bajwa asserting that the state party unit never wanted to contest in coalition with the AAP.
The decision to go solo reflected the respective parties’ confidence in their individual electoral prospects and underscored the complexities of regional politics.
Their announcement also assume significance as both AAP and Congress are key constituents of the pan-India opposition bloc INDIA, and their failure to forge an alliance in Punjab highlighted the divergence of interests and priorities within the opposition ranks. Despite being part of the same opposition bloc at the national level, the inability to align their strategies in Punjab reflects the intricacies of regional politics and the pursuit of individual party interests.
Kharge, addressing the Punjab Congress first-ever Workers’ Convention in Samrala, emphasized the party's determination to secure victory across all 13 constituencies. However, he refrained from making any concrete announcements regarding a potential alliance with AAP under the INDIA bloc for the Lok Sabha polls. He, however, rallied party workers, stressing the importance of fighting the electoral battle alone.
“In some states, INDI alliance is happening, in others it is not working out…But we have to fight…We have to fight alone…till the end and win. It doesn’t matter who joins us and who doesn’t. We have to fight. The decision to have INDI alliance has been taken for the entire country, it’s not just about Punjab...” said Kharge in his charged voice.
Kharge’s assertion came a day after Kejriwal, during a party rally in Khanna on Saturday, declared AAP’s decision to contest all 13 seats in Punjab without any alliance. “AAP will contest all 13 seats in Punjab on its own without any alliance…In the next 10-15 days, AAP will declare its candidates for all 13 seats in Punjab and for one seat in Chandigarh…You have to make AAP sweep all these 14 seats with a majority,” Kejriwal had said.
Meanwhile, talks between SAD and BJP for a pre-poll alliance have reportedly faltered, adding another layer of complexity to Punjab's political landscape. Sources suggest that the BJP's leadership in the State was hesitant to forge an alliance with the Akali Dal, which had left the NDA over the contentious farm laws.
Sources informed The Pioneer that the efforts to forge a pre-poll alliance between the previous allies, SAD and BJP, in Punjab hit a roadblock as negotiations faltered due to disagreements over leadership roles within the coalition. Sources close to the discussions revealed that both parties were vying to assume the mantle of the senior member, leading to an impasse that ultimately led to the breakdown of talks.
SAD, a former ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), stood firm on its stance of equal footing in the coalition, refusing to accept a subordinate role. However, the BJP, buoyed by its national prominence, sought to assert its dominance, insisting on a more prominent role for itself within the alliance.
The clash of egos and aspirations reportedly culminated in the failure of talks, dealing a blow to prospects of a unified front ahead of the upcoming elections in Punjab. The inability to reconcile their differences underscored deeper fissures within the erstwhile allies, highlighting divergent priorities and ambitions.
SAD's insistence on maintaining parity in the alliance stemmed from its desire to uphold its historical significance and preserve its autonomy in the political landscape of Punjab. Conversely, the BJP's bid for a dominant position reflected its ambition to leverage its national stature and expand its influence in the state.
Sources also maintained that talks may resume again once SAD chief Sukhbir Badal would conclude his ‘Punjab Bachao Yatra’, and lead the parleys formally. On Sunday, when asked about speculations about Akali Dal joining the NDA, Sukhbir said, “I am currently doing ‘Punjab Bachao Yatra’, our alliance is with BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party).”
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP and Akali Dal had contested together and won four of 13 seats. The BJP had contested three and bagged two, while Akali Dal contested 10 but could win two seats.
The failure of pre-poll alliances has set the stage for a fiercely contested electoral battle in Punjab, with each party vying for supremacy. The absence of alliances may lead to a fragmentation of votes and intensify electoral competition, reshaping the state's political dynamics.
As the countdown to the 2024 general elections begins, Punjab finds itself at the center of a political maelstrom. The failure of pre-poll alliances and the emergence of solo contenders have injected a sense of unpredictability into the electoral landscape, setting the stage for a high-stakes electoral showdown.
With each party charting its own course, Punjab braces for a tumultuous electoral journey characterized by shifting alliances, strategic maneuvering, and the relentless pursuit of power. The fate of Punjab hangs in the balance as political actors navigate the turbulent waters of electoral politics, each vying to emerge victorious in the quest for political dominance.