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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

With 2 of top 3 from Majha, Panthic belt that plays kingmaker in Punjab politics gets its due

Majha accounts for 25 Assembly seats in the 117-member Vidhan Sabha. Doaba make for 23 seats and Malwa region the remaining 69 seats.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: September 21, 2021 6:18:50 am
Channi with Dy CMs Soni and Randhawa in Chandigarh. (Photo: PTI)

As Congress named Charanjit Singh Channi new chief minister for Punjab and appointed Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Om Parkash Soni as his deputies, political experts couldn’t help noticing the disproportionate representation to the Majha region in the choice of names. While Channi is MLA from Chamkaur Sahib in Malwa region, Soni and Randhwa represent Amritsar Central and Dera Baba Nanak, respectively, in Majha.

The move, to get two-thirds of the top three leaders, from Majha – comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Tarn Taran districts – in the run up to the Assembly elections in early 2022, is being seen as a well though out move by the ruling party in which the rebellion against former CM Capt Amarinder Singh was led by a group of leaders from that region.

Majha accounts for 25 Assembly seats in the 117-member Vidhan Sabha. Doaba make for 23 seats and Malwa region the remaining 69 seats. In 2017 polls, Congress had won 22 seats in Majha region, 15 in Doaba and 20 in Malwa.

Kingmaker region
While Malwa is considered politically influential, it is the Panthic belt of Majha that has often cropped up as kingmaker in state politics. It is credited with helping the Shiromani Akali Dal form the government in 2007 wresting the power from Congress led by Capt Amarinder Singh who then enjoyed huge popularity in Malwa and also had the support of the powerful Dera Sacha Sauda. Malwa then had 65 seats and Congress won 37. The party, however, suffered a rout in Majha where it could win only three of then 27 seats region, while Akali Dal won 17 and its ally the BJP seven going on to form the next government. SAD had won over the Sikh voters in the Panthic belt while BJP had secured Hindu votes in urban areas.
The trend reversed in 2017 when Congress swept Majha, winning 22 of the 25 seats. Capt Amarinder Singh formed the government despite the fact that the core Malwa went with Aam Adami Party (AAP).

Sikhs, Hindus on the same page
In this Panthic belt, Sikh voters often tilt towards one party. The region also rules the narrative for the Hindu voters in the state. Contrary to popular perception, Hindu and Sikh voters in Majha have often voted en masse for a party or an alliance for their own reasons.

It was the anti-Badal wave which pushed Sikh voters towards Congress in 2017 – the only time after 1984 when the community voted for the party in such huge numbers. Also, Congress leaders such as Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa in Majha had been raising issues concerning Sikh masses, which otherwise was considered the domain of the Akalis. Similarly, Hindu voters were unhappy with BJP for failing to dictate terms with SAD, despite being an alliance partner in government.

The 2007-2017 analogy
In 2007, Sikhs in Majha predictably voted for Akali Dal whereas Hindus voted for the BJP.
The Congress at time failed to win over the community despite the Amarinder Singh-led government having kept focus on rural areas where the Hindu population is concentrated.
In 2017, Amarinder pitched topics such nationalism and national security. Hindus and Sikhs both ended up voting for Congress as they did for SAD-BJP in 2007.

Hindu voters of Majha also have great influence on how the community behaves in other parts of Punjab. Recently, Akali Dal announced fielding former BJP minister Anil Joshi from Amritsar East in the hope that it would push the Hindus votes across the state in its favour.

Only one CM
The region, however, has not had much representation on the CM seat. The only petrson from the region to become CM was Partap Singh Kairon (1962-1964) in undivided Punjab. Voters of Majha have often said they feel discriminated against with Malwa getting the lion’s share in the state government.

Anti-incumbency against Congress in Majha
As state heads for polls, the Akali Dal is betting on anti-incumbency against Congress in Majha. It has often been alleged that despite winning 22 out of 25 seats in region, the Congress MLAs couldn’t get much for Majha. It is claimed that former minister and Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia still weilds influence in the region despite the party being relegated to the third spot in 2017.

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