The public bravado over forming the next government in Punjab in 2022 notwithstanding, the BJP faces an uphill task in ensuring its reach across the 94 additional Assembly constituencies where it would have to put up a fight in the 117-member House apart from the 23 that it already fights.
In 2017 polls, the BJP won only on two Assembly seats of the 23 that the party had contested as per its alliance share with the SAD. This time around, the party wanted 59 seats from its erstwhile ally based on an improved performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in many Assembly segments.
However, party insiders say that given the fact that the BJP in Punjab faces an acute shortage of Sikh faces, the claim of winning outright against the Congress as well as Akalis is a tall one. While the Akalis need to put up candidates only in 23 seats and they have substantial presence in almost all of them, the BJP will have have to toil to make a mark in the majority of constituencies.
“The myopic state leadership of the party has been so tied down in infighting and pulling down each other that they could not put the party on a sound footing across Punjab. We lack the cadre base of the Akalis in their Assembly segments and it is an impossible task to imagine that by February 2022 we would have an outreach which would rival Akalis or Congress or even AAP,” said a senior leader who did not want to be named.
The BJP hopes to make gains on the strength of the breakaway Akali leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa who have formed SAD (Democratic). However, given the backlash over the agriculture Bills, it is difficult to see even the rebel Akalis managing to come to the BJP’s aid.
Party leaders privately agree that had Navjot Singh Sidhu been still part of the BJP and had he not been allowed to move out due to his differences with the Badals, the BJP would have been on a much stronger wicket in Punjab.
“Having a Sikh face like that of Sidhu would have definitely given us the much-needed edge in Punjab. Not only he would have been able to galvanise the masses to gravitate away from Akalis, he would have also pulled in many dissident Akali leaders into our camp,” another leader said.
When asked if their was any chance of Sidhu coming back into the BJP fold now that his arch rivals, the Badals, had broken away, BJP leaders said there was “no chance at all”.
“Sidhu had all the respect he could have hoped for in BJP but he was too eager to grab power in Punjab. Today with Harsimrat‘s exit from Cabinet, he may even have landed a berth in council of ministers. Instead what has he gained in Congress? A portfolio which he had to give away due to humiliating treatment,” a top state leader said.
The party functionaries say that the manner in which Sidhu has been attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party, there is no scope for his return. “Initially when he had joined Congress, he had refrained from making any personal attacks but now he has not been restrained,” one office-bearer said.
Referring to the situation at present for the BJP and the way forward, former Union minister and state president Vijay Sampla said the conditions were not as bad for the BJP as were being portrayed.
“We have a definite edge. We now have the whole field to ourselves. Earlier, we had only 23 seats within which we had to manage our largesse for our workers. Now we have 94 more seats to reach out to and invite persons into our fold. From my point of view we are at an advantageous position,” Sampla said.
Meanwhile, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal has targeted breakaway Akali leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa for having been hand in glove with the BJP. Speaking to reporters, Badal sounded a warning to the former Akali leader saying, “Dhindsa saab tuhanu lokan ne jutiyaan marniyan (Dhindsa saab people will beat you with shoes).”
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