03/11/2022, 17.45
INDIAN MANDALA
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First Delhi, now Punjab: Kejriwal set to be the anti-Modi

by Giorgio Bernardelli

Hindu nationalists win the crucial Uttar Pradesh state election, but the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party crushes Punjab’s hitherto dominant parties. As the crisis of the Congress party gets worse, observers wonder who will he be the real challenger of the BJP in 2024.

Milan (AsiaNews) – By winning back the key state of Uttar Pradesh, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has undoubtedly won this year’s round of elections in five states.

The election results, which were released yesterday, marked another major victory, but that of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, Common Man Party), which is by led Arvind Kejriwal, who started an anti-corruption campaign ten years ago and has served as chief minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi since 2015.

With a population of 28 million, Punjab is the heartland of India’s Sikh community. As a major farming state, it has seen mass protests by farmers opposed to liberalisation of agricultural markets by Prime Minister Modi’s government. Following protests and convoys of tractors converging on Delhi, the policy was scraped only a few months ago.

Politics in Punjab was dominated by the Indian National Congress, the country’s de facto ruling party under Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a centre-right party that has been very influential among Sikhs since the 1920s.

Both Congress and the SAD got crushed in last month’s state election, which saw the AAP take 92 out of 117 seats in the state assembly, something unprecedented in the history of Punjab.

The hitherto governing Congress was reduced to 18 seats (59 fewer than in outgoing assembly). In turn, the Sikh-centric party elected only three members, just one more than the BJP which has always been marginal in Punjab.

The Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, a new party created by farmers’ unions in the wake of the protest movement failed to take any seat. Its most prominent leader, Balbir Singh Rajewal, received only 4,676 votes against the 57,557 for the AAP candidate.

The AAP’s victory is also due to its decision to present Bhagwant Mann to be the state’s chief minister. Elected twice to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, Mann, 48, is another example of a well-known actor and comedian who jumped into the political arena.

For the AAP, he proved to be the ideal choice to harness the anti-system sentiments of many voters. In January, as many as 93 per cent of AAP voters picked him as the ideal government leader, making him even more popular than AAP national leader Arvind Kejriwal.

Following the Punjab election, people are now wondering who would be the best leader to take on Narendra Modi in the next Union (federal) elections, scheduled for 2024.

The defeat of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh showed the limits of regional parties and the notion that they can really be a bulwark against the BJP.

A regional party worked last year in West Bengal with the victory of Mamata Banerjee, who was able to beat back the assault by Hindu nationalists, but the proposition does not appear to work everywhere. One of the problems associated with regional parties is the need accommodate competing local leaders and potentates.

What this round of elections is further confirm he deep crisis of Congress, with the leadership of the Gandhi clan now openly questioned.

Out of 690 seats up for grabs in five states, only 55 went to the party that claims to be the main alternative to Narendra Modi. Now it governs alone in only in two states: Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Still, it is not all gloom and doom for Congress. in Uttarakhand it gained more votes and seats, but not enough to take power.

Thus, many observers of Indian politics wonder if Kejriwal is the only alternative to the BJP’s populist nationalism. As of yesterday, the AAP is no longer a Delhi exception and the next two years will tell if Kejriwal can really lead those Indians opposed Modi.

 

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