Former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s decision to join the BJP next week, along with some former MLAs, is a shot in the arm for the BJP, which has been trying hard to carve an independent space for itself in Punjab ever since it parted ways with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in 2019 on the issue of the now-repealed farm laws.
The news comes at a time when the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government – which completed six months on Friday – has filed a police complaint charging the saffron party with trying to poach its legislators under “Operation Lotus”.
For long now, the BJP has been seeking a strong Sikh face who would also be acceptable to its Hindu constituency. Although age may not be on his side, 80-year-old Singh fits the bill. Whether Singh, who says he wants to leave politics on a winning note after his humiliating exit from the Congress in 2021, has found the right platform remains to be seen.
Though many had thought the Maharaja of Patiala, who has not been keeping good health, would hang his boots after his removal as CM in August last year, Singh founded the Punjab Lok Congress in November and later entered into a pre-poll alliance with BJP.
His entry into BJP was a foregone conclusion when his party failed to open its account at the hustings and he himself lost from his bastion of Patiala.
The veteran leader joins the league of several former Congress heavyweights such as Sunil Kumar Jakhar, former chief of Punjab Pradesh Congress, and former ministers Balbir Sidhu, Gurpreet Kangar, Raj Kumar Verka and Sundar Sham Arora to have joined the BJP since AAP swept to power with 92 of the 117 seats in March this year. The Congress was reduced to 18 seats.
The former Congress heavyweight, who had briefly joined the Akali Dal after Operation Bluestar in June 1984, has always spoken in one voice with the BJP on its nationalistic agenda, roundly criticising Pakistan and China following the Pulwama attack that killed CRPF personnel and the Galwan Valley clashes.
He has been equally vociferous about the importance of combating cross-border terrorism and smuggling of drugs. Amarinder was one of the few leaders who supported the extension of the BSF’s physical jurisdiction on Punjab border, claiming that drones were being used to drop arms and drugs from across the border.
Singh has also made no secret of his scorn for AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and has often used very colourful language to describe the latter.
Above all, Singh enjoys a good personal rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When he was the CM of Punjab, he had gone on record to say that the PM was always very “cooperative” when approached.
This is also where the common ground ends. Singh is known as a strong leader with a mind of his own. He has been strongly opposing the Agnipath scheme for recruitment into the armed forces, saying it is antithetical to the concept of regimental brotherhood, which forms the bulwark of the Army.
Known for his secular credentials, Singh has also openly criticised the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
The BJP may have a difference of opinion with him on his stand on the Satluj Yamuna Link canal as well, a bone of contention between Punjab and Haryana, where the BJP is in power.
Only recently, the Supreme Court gave Punjab a rap on the knuckles for “not cooperating” in the matter. It was Singh who had famously legislated himself out of the SYL agreement through the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act in 2004 without consulting party chief Sonia Gandhi. Even today, he maintains that Punjab cannot give a drop to Haryana as it does not have any to spare.
But state BJP general secretary Subhash Sharma sought to play down these differences. “We are a very democratic party and we are open to different shades of opinion. Such issues will never pose a problem.’’
Even though the BJP could muster only two seats in the Assembly elections and lost its deposit in 54, it has continued its charm offensive in the state with the PM hosting dignitaries from Punjab regularly at his residence in Delhi.
More recently, he met party leaders in Chandigarh, many of them former Congressmen, during a visit.