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A November to Remember: Three Upcoming Events That Could Decide Punjab Elections

The Navjot Singh Sidhu (centre) camp had alleged that then CM Amarinder Singh (left) was soft on taking action against Sukhbir Singh Badal (right) in the sacrilege and drug investigation cases. (PTI Photos)

The Navjot Singh Sidhu (centre) camp had alleged that then CM Amarinder Singh (left) was soft on taking action against Sukhbir Singh Badal (right) in the sacrilege and drug investigation cases. (PTI Photos)

Punjab elections are anyone’s game right now. But the completion of 2015 sacrilege probe, AAP’s declaration of a CM candidate and Amarinder Singh’s next move – all expected in November -- could determine which way the polls sway.

Punjab is one election that no one has been able to call as on date. It is an intense fight with fast-changing fortunes inside the Congress, an upcoming Aam Aadmi Party, veteran challenger Shiromani Akali Dal and a seemingly dead but not out BJP. Three events expected in November, however, may determine the course of Punjab elections.

The top event will be the special investigation teams (SITs) completing their probe into the 2015 Faridkot sacrilege and police firing cases. The High Court-fixed deadline of six months for the same ends early November. Around the same time, the High Court is also expected to open the sealed cover into the drug investigation completed over two years ago. It was no surprise that Navjot Singh Sidhu put delivering on these two points right at the top of his letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday.

Will this result in arrests and action against the Badal family? The Congress has been promising this for a long time, but the Badals have been calling it “political vendetta”.

Action Against Badals?

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Political opinion in Punjab is divided on whether Sukhbir Singh Badal, the Akali Dal’s chief ministerial face, will get sympathy from voters if action is taken against him in these cases. His party desperately needs a political hook to kick-start its campaign which has been blocked by farmers repeatedly. The Congress feels such action will resurrect the grand old party’s electoral fortunes among people.

ALSO READ | ‘Will You Arrest Badals Now?’ Behbal Kalan Family Reminds Channi-Sidhu of Their Biggest Challenge

“The sacrilege and police firing cases are the biggest emotive issue in Punjab. It led to Parkash Singh Badal losing power in 2017 elections. If action is now taken against the Badals, people will again rally behind the Congress despite the anti-incumbency. So action in the drugs case will help…” a top Punjab Congress leader told News18.com.

AAP Pick

The second big event that could impact Punjab elections is the declaration of the party’s CM face by AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. He has promised that the candidate will be a Sikh face from Punjab and the announcement is expected in November after Diwali.

ALSO READ | All Charged AAP: Kejriwal’s Party is Challenging Established Players, Its Eyes Fixed on 5 States

This may be a game-changer for AAP and the face could become a powerful entrant in the Punjab race, with the party already having some momentum after backing the farmers’ cause. Half-a-dozen names like actor Sonu Sood have been speculated. If a farmer leader is chosen as the CM face, it could further add to AAP’s appeal among voters.

Captain’s Call

The third big event could be Captain Amarinder Singh’s next move, which is expected in November as well. Old warhorse at 79, Singh, has some deft moves up his sleeve in these elections with a single-point agenda — hurt the Congress.

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Feeling humiliated over the manner of his removal as the CM, Singh is determined to harm the political capital of his bete noire Navjot Singh Sidhu and may float a regional outfit with tacit support of the BJP that could put up candidates against Sidhu and his key lieutenants. However, Singh’s overtures towards BJP leaders and his stand on issues like the BSF’s extended jurisdiction could dent his credibility among farmers and people alike.

Joker in the Pack

The joker in the pack, meanwhile, would be Congress’ ability to hold its own together till the polls and not risk further dissensions. A key factor towards this goal could be Sonia Gandhi making it clear that she will be at the helm of affairs in the Congress as Punjab goes to polls.

ALSO READ | Pushy G23, Mercurial TMC & Elections Ahead: Sonia Gandhi Still Holds Cong’s Reins But Road to Revival Not Smooth

With Captain Amarinder Singh out in the cold after being removed as the CM, Sonia Gandhi will be in direct control of the political campaign in Punjab and the messaging to the electorate. She has also been clear on the big issue of Punjab – that the three farm laws must be scrapped. Maverick and unpredictable as he may be, Navjot Singh Sidhu is the strongest player for the Congress in Punjab, whom the party cannot afford to lose.

The Congress won the 2017 election with two faces in the campaign — Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu. With Amarinder out, Sidhu is now the campaign face and the sure-shot crowd-puller given his aggressive stance on the Badals and issues like drug abuse and sacrilege cases. But Sidhu’s demands on removing the DGP and the AG are still to be accepted.

ALSO READ | After Sonia’s Snub at CWC, G23 Has No Choice But to Lie Low And Wait for Next Poll Results

In the midst of all this, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has been working quietly on the Congress agenda in Punjab and got a shot in the arm after accompanying Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to Lakhimpur. Even Rahul Gandhi praised him in the recent CWC meeting, saying such persons should be brought forward. Channi may prove to be the real ‘king’ after all.

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first published:October 18, 2021, 09:54 IST