Captain Amarinder Singh can still surprise everyone

The IANS-CVoter Punjab Tracker is revealing some interesting new trends with the entry of Captain Amarinder Singh as a new ally of BJP, a contest which is already multi cornered. As a part of the tracker, a snap poll simply asked the respondents across all 117 seats in Punjab, if they feel that PLC-BJP-SADs alliance candidate is in “serious contest” in their own area. The results show that every third voter in Punjab believes that Captain is still very much in serious contest along with his new alliance partners.

This sentiment is more highlighted in Hindu dominated areas of Doaba and Majha and less in Malwa. In electoral contests, if votes are concentrated in a geographical area, a party with a small vote share can win quite a few seats. For example, in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the Lok Janshakti Party polled hardly 8 per cent of the vote share in Bihar and managed to win 6 Lok Sabha seats. In contrast, the RJD got multiples of that vote share but failed to win a single seat. Similar trends have been spotted with JDS in Karnataka, NC in J&K or JMM in Jharkhand for that matter.

While very few analysts expected the alliance between the BJP, Captain Amarinder Singh’s new party (PLC) and a breakaway faction of the Akali Dal (S) to be a serious contender for power on their own, voters in Punjab do feel it could throw surprises in select pockets like Patiala, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Jalandhar. This has a potential to upset all calculations of different political parties.

The Punjab Tracker revealed that almost two third of BJP supporters now believed that their alliance candidates are in serious contention for one of top and leading spots in the race. Few months back hardly one in ten of core BJP supporters believed they are in the contest whatsoever. Four in ten Congress supporters also support the assertion made by BJP supporters with a further 13 per cent being undecided. Again, assuming an even split of the undecided voters, nearly half voters of Congress are taking the possible damage inflicted by BJP-PLC seriously.

Even Akali Dal (Badal) voters are not taking the BJP-PLC combine lightly. Almost half of Akali voters feel that local BJP-PLC candidates will finish in the top three positions and a further 23 per cent voters of Akali Dal are undecided. At the absolute minimum, a majority of potential Akali voters are ranking BJP-PLC as a serious contender in their respective seats. Only AAP supporters (30 per cent) are dismissive of the BJP-PLC candidates. Almost 60 per cent AAP supporters feel that BJP-PLC is not really in the contest in their respective seats.

The clear separation of trend between AAP and the PLC-BJP, INC and Akali Dal is a result of the voter catchment that the respective entities dwell in. AAP is more active in Jatt Sikh belt of Malwa while Akali Dal and INC are pan-Punjab parties. Currently, AAP is dominating Malwa where BJP-PLC have slender presence outside of Patiala and some other pockets. Thus AAP’s voters do not see PLC-BJP anywhere in the reckoning.

Also, this data is reflective of the growing communal divide that was fostered by some elements during the farmer protests. The predominantly urban and concentrated Hindu vote catchments of Punjabi cities are perhaps not in sync with rural sentiment. We may witness the trend of split vote and divided polity in Punjab after a long while. Last time this trend was observed during the turbulent 1980s.

Which brings us to the question of silent voting. Punjab is a post-conflict society that is a result of nearly a decade of brutal violence. Different communities have different takes on some contentious issues, over time the divisions have narrowed down. However, there is a sense of uncertainty now with Captain Amarinder Singh’s departure from Congress and the loss of traction for Akali Dal (Badal).

In caste terms support for Captain and BJP alliance is most bullish among OBC Hindus (55 per cent), the next highest are Brahmins (45 per cent) and Banias (40 per cent) voters among Hindus. Dalit voters belonging to various sub-castes of Hindu community (46 per cent) are also pro-alliance, but the same set from Sikh community is largely pro Congress courtesy a Dalit CM fame. Bottom line is that BJP-PLC is considered seriously competitive by 37 per cent voters in Punjab. This is correlated to the proportion of Hindu votes in the state and also the concentration of the same in various pockets. Due to the silent nature of voters from minority communities (Hindus) there may be some underestimation for the level of actual support for the BJP-PLC combine in different surveys.

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