The churning in Punjab as a result of disaffection within the political parties has for the first time in recent years thrown up three new outfits that are making a bid for electoral success in the Lok Sabha elections.
While Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP) and Nava Punjab Party (NPP) have come about due to the internal friction in Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a rebellion against the alleged high-handedness of the party’s Delhi-based leaders, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali) has been borne out of serious differences between Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) senior leadership and party president Sukhbir Badal.
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The implosion within AAP has caused the biggest rift in any established political party in the state. The leader of the rebel group within the party, Sukhpal Khaira, went on to establish PEP and is now contesting the general elections from Bathinda constituency with another rebel AAP MLA, Baldev Singh, fighting from Faridkot reserved constituency. Interestingly, both have resigned from AAP but have not resigned as MLAs even as they are fighting the Lok Sabha polls on another party’s symbol.
While Khaira had led a charge against the national leadership of AAP immediately after party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal apologized to Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia after later filed a defamation case, the differences between a section of the MLAs and the Delhi leaders had been simmering after the below average performance of the party in 2017 assembly polls.
Khaira’s summary removal as the Leader of Opposition gave him the opportunity to charter his own course citing the interference of the Delhi leadership in the internal functionings of the Punjab unit of AAP and seeking autonomy. After testing the waters by holding AAP volunteers’ conventions and taking out a march in Bargari, which was incidentally supported by hardliner Sikh outfits with separatist agendas, he finally announced formation of his own party in January this year.
While Khaira says that AAP’s potential in Punjab has been destroyed by Delhi leaders with no pulse for the state, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, the Patiala MP, blames the party for having lost its original values of Swaraj and internal transparency. Suspended from the party since August 2015 for raising voice against the national leadership’s policies, Gandhi first floated the Punjab Manch and then, in March 2019, he floated the Nava Punjab Party.
The NPP envisions complete autonomy for the state on the lines of a federal structure of governance and wants greater say in the matter of relations with immediate neighbouring countries like Pakistan. “Punjab wants peace with Pakistan. We do not want wars or disturbances on our borders. We can benefit so much from the trade ties with central Asian countries through Pakistan,” he says. Fighting for re-election on his newly formed party’s symbol, Gandhi says he is getting good response from the voters on the basis of his track record as an MP and the big ticket projects he has brought to Patiala.
The leaders of SAD (Taksali), primarily from the Majha area, have cited the issue of pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh as one of the primary reasons for breaking away from the parent party. Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, the MP from Khadoor Sahib, has blamed Sukhbir and Bikram Majithia for mismanaging the party affairs. The splinter group joins the pantheon of several other Akali factions that have come into being over the years.
Political observers are of the view that all these new parties are taking the Lok Sabha polls as a sounding board for finalising their plans for the 2022 assembly polls in Punjab.
The response which they will get in these elections are expected to help them fine tune their approach to the state elections and taking on both, Congress as well as SAD-BJP combine.