Data Reveals an Election of Anger in Punjab: No favourites. Not Modi, nor Captain

Vishal Chauhan, 17/05/2019
Data Reveals an Election of Anger in Punjab: No favourites. Not Modi, nor Captain

Anti-incumbency is a mild word to describe the public sentiment in Punjab as it goes to vote in the Lok Sabha elections on 19 May. There is resentment against the political class at every level – from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to local leaders across party lines.

Candidates from almost every party have been heckled during the campaign – Union Minister Harsimrat Badal, her opponents Amarinder Singh Raja Warring of the Congress and Sukhpal Khaira of the Punjab Democratic Alliance, Congress’ Patiala candidate and the CM’s wife Preneet Kaur, AAP leader Bhagwant Mann and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parminder Dhindsa – to name a few.

Many people in Punjab see the political class as self-serving and often in collusion with each other. The desire for change is extremely strong – change at every level, not just a replacement of the incumbent.

Anger at Every Level

The anger against the government at every level is evident from the responses to CVoter’s tracker in May this year.

When the agency asked people in Punjab who they are “most angry with” and who they “want to change immediately”, 26 percent said they are angry with “the Prime Minister” and want to replace him, while 16 percent said “the Chief Minister”. The other options were “local Sarpanch/Mayor”, “Panchayat/Gram Sabha/Municipal Corporation”, Panchayat Member, MLA, MP, state government and central government.

Compared to other states, Punjab has the highest proportion of people who picked PM Modi as the one person they are angry with and want replaced immediately.

As far as Captain is concerned, according to the survey, Punjab is behind only Andhra Pradesh and Delhi in terms of the proportion of people who are angry with the Chief Minister.

When asked about PM Modi’s performance in particular, 45.1 percent said they are dissatisfied with him while 33.9 percent said they are “very much satisfied with him”. Punjab is behind only Kerala as far as the dislike of PM Modi is concerned.

Regarding CM Amarinder Singh, 45 percent said they are dissatisfied with him against 25 percent who said they are very much satisfied. Captain has the highest rate of dissatisfaction among all the CMs in the country.

The Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey results released before the first phase of polling in April, reveal a similar pattern.

According to the survey, the Modi government has a negative satisfaction rating of -29 percentage points in Punjab, better than only Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This means that the people in Punjab who are dissatisfied with the Modi government vastly outnumber those who are satisfied.

The net satisfaction rating of Captain Amarinder Singh’s government is 17 percentage points. Only the governments in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand are more unpopular, according to the survey.

However, not everyone agrees that Captain is uniformly unpopular.

“Captain is respected among farmers because he has always delivered on procurement. The delayed loan waiver is the only grouse, which farmers believe will be remedied.”

Ramandeep Singh Mann, agriculture activist

Some say that Captain’s shortcomings get ignored because he is seen as the “lesser evil” compared to the Badals

According to Baljinder Singh, who is in the transport business in Amritsar, “Captain may not be doing anything for the people, but he isn’t troubling anyone either. Badals made life difficult for everyone in Punjab”.

Why is Punjab Angry?

Two issues which repeatedly came up in conversations with people in Punjab are unemployment and the sacrilege incidents of 2015.

According to the CVoter tracker, 51.6 percent respondents in Punjab picked unemployment as the biggest issue in these elections. Corruption was far behind at 11.3 percent, price rise at 8 percent, poverty at 6.4 percent and electricity/roads/water at 1.9 percent.

Despite PM Modi’s national security pitch after the Pulwama attacks, terrorism is important for only 1.1 percent respondents in Punjab.

Compared to all other states, Punjab has the highest proportion of voters who picked unemployment as the biggest issue and the lowest proportion of voters who picked terrorism as the main issue.

The other key issue is the cases of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib that took place at Bargari in Faridkot district in 2015, during the SAD-BJP government’s tenure. The sacrilege incidents were followed by widespread protests. The police fired at the protestors in Kotkapura, killing two people. There’s a widespread demand to punish those behind the desecration as well as the police and government functionaries behind the firing.

“Badals let the incidents of sacrilege happen. And when Sikhs protested, their police fired upon us in Kotkapura. Such things happen only under the rule of tyrants.”

Gurtej Singh Pannu, a resident of Tarn Taran

But Captain’s alleged inaction on the Bargari and Kotkapura cases has angered many as well.

“Why isn’t Captain taking action against them. Is he trying to protect the Badals?” Pannu asked.

Harjot Singh, a resident of Moga, said “This is not a Sikh issue. We are just asking the law to be implemented and for justice to be done. The people behind the sacrilege and the people behind the Kotkapura killings should be brought to book. But Captain is not sincere”.

If the anger on the sacrilege and firing cases wasn’t enough, Sam Pitroda’s “Hua to Hua” comment reopened wounds of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom as well as Operation Bluestar.

Several angry Sikhs, some of whom lost their loved ones in 1984, protested in front of Priyanka Gandhi’s cavalcade in Pathankot on 14 May when she came there to address a rally.

According to writer and journalist Amandeep Sandhu, both the BJP and Congress have treated Sikhs unjustly.

Widespread Pessimism & Despondency

Contrary to the cliched representations of Punjab in films and the media as a land of perpetual celebration – one senior journalist referred to it as the land of "bhangra, butter chicken and balle balle" – there is an atmosphere of pessimism and despondency in the state.

According to the C-Voter tracker, 45.4 percent people in Punjab said that their living standard has deteriorated in the last one year, as compared to 25.8 percent nationally.

17.3 percent respondents in Punjab said that their living standard will deteriorate in the next one year, ten percentage points more than the people who responded the same way nationally.

Even though 43.9 percent in Punjab said their living standard will improve in the next one year, this is much less than the national average of 58.3 percent.

So even though the number of people who are optimistic is more or less same as those who are pessimistic, the pessimism in Punjab is much greater than the national average.

A similar pattern was observed when people were asked, “Which way is India headed?” 31.6 percent people in Punjab said that the country and their life are both in poor state, against 17.9 percent nationally. 15.1 percent in Punjab said that the country is moving forward but not their life.

Even though 43.9 percent respondents in Punjab said that the country and their life are both moving forward, this was 20 percentage points less than the national figure.

What Does This Mean For The Election?

  • Given this atmosphere of widespread negativity in Punjab against almost all parties, there is unlikely to be any wave in the state. The battle will be fought on a seat-by-seat basis.

  • Captain Amarinder Singh has promised that the Congress will win all 13 seats but that’s unlikely to happen, and his own performance and poor candidate selection is partly to blame for it. Still the party is likely to be ahead of the rest due to the anger against the Akalis and the implosion in the Aam Aadmi Party. It also remains to be seen how much Sam Pitroda’s comments on the 1984 pogrom harm the party.

  • The Akali Dal is batting on the front-foot with party president Sukhbir Badal contesting from Ferozepur. Badal along with sitting MPs Harismrat Kaur Badal from Bathinda and Prem Singh Chandumajra from Anandpur Sahib are the SAD’s best bets. Other candidates, however, may find it difficult given the resentment against the party as well as against PM Narendra Modi.

  • The BJP’s prospects entirely depend on a shift of Hindu votes from the Congress in Hindu-dominated seats like Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur. Captain is relatively popular among Hindus and this is a major obstacle for the BJP along with the party’s low approval rating among Sikhs.

  • The Aam Aadmi Party’s popularity is nowhere near what it was in 2014, when many Punjabis saw it as a strong alternative against the two established parties. The best case scenario for the party would be retaining Sangrur and Faridkot.

  • The X-factor in this election is the six-party Punjab Democratic Alliance. Some of its candidates like Paramjit Kaur Khalra in Khadoor Sahib and Dr Dharamvira Gandhi in Patiala enjoys credibility at an individual level and are expected to give a tough fight to existing parties.

But the larger issue in this election is the anger and despair that is present in Punjab due to issues like unemployment, agrarian distress, lack of justice in cases of sacrilege and police atrocities. The political class, at least in the three main parties – SAD, Congress and BJP – have done little to address these issues. Instead what the people see is a polity dominated by a handful of elite families, who allegedly collude with each other to maintain status quo.

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