Navjot Singh Sidhu and wife Navjot Kaur’s formal resignation from the Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday can create mild flutters in poll-bound Punjab’s political landscape, but nothing more. Identity politics will play a minor role in the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections due next year and it is too late for Sherry to make any headway with his newly floated political front with a near non-existent presence on the grassroot level. Awaaz-e-Punjab may just cause more problems for the BJP as the state finds itself in an uncommon position with a third alternative emerging strong in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party.
At the back of his head, Sidhu will know that his party is not likely to be a contender for power when the new government is elected next year. It will, however, help AAP’s position as they roar ahead in their election campaign. What it promises to do has further hit the BJP’s and Akalis’ position, given that they have already lost a significant vote bank due to anti-incumbency. AAP’s entry into Punjab was always on the cards. In fact, the party contested 432 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections and received 53.5 per cent of its vote share from just 21 constituencies in Delhi, Punjab and Chandigarh.
Sidhu has for years had failed to get his voice across in the BJP and had little influence on party decisions. After the embarrassment of 2014, when he was replaced by Arun Jaitley as the party’s candidate against Congress stalwart and former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, an ugly exit was foreseeable from the party. If he were to join the Congress party, Sidhu would have always been a rung below Captain Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa. Given the way AAP works, Sidhu wouldn’t have been the best choice for chief ministership anyway.
Sherry is no astute statesman, but he will use his Awaaz-e-Punjab to evoke emotions of a large electorate trying to find a voice for their identity or a homegrown leader. He will even bank on the prospect that if AAP comes to power, it might be the first time since 1966, when the state was split, that Punjab elects a non-sikh chief minister. The decision to entrust the state’s political responsibilities in non-Punjabi leaders has led to the party losing some ground and also increased unrest within the state unit. This could be why Kejriwal’s followers are claiming he will be the head of “everything AAP” in Punjab.
With Sidhu and AAP evoking some interest, the people of Punjab seem like they want to take a risk with a new party. This will work in AAP’s favour as Aawaz-e-Punjab will have to pull off a miracle if it is to make a mark on these elections. The AAP started its groundwork in the state quite early and placed workers at the grassroots level. While rural votes seems to be shifting to the AAP from SAD, the BJP too seems to have lost its hold on urban Punjab. AAP’s massive volunteer base active in Punjab has been feeding the Delhi success story to the people, and newspapers and streets are seen flooded with advertisements listing Kejriwal’s achievements in Delhi. Thanks to all this, the Congress is no longer in a position to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor. With two victories under its belt, AAP is now the third alternative that can keep the Akalis from a third consecutive term.