Party-hopping season in Punjab: Who is going to feel ‘suffocated’ next?

Just before elections, it dawns on several politicians that they had been in the ‘wrong’ party all along. Principles and ideology no bar for jumping ship

Sushil Kumar Rinku and Sheetal Angural join the BJP (photo courtesy:
Sushil Kumar Rinku and Sheetal Angural join the BJP (photo courtesy:

Harjeshwar Pal Singh

In twin blows to AAP, its Lok Sabha MP from Jalandhar, Sushil Kumar Rinku, and the Jalandhar Rural MLA Sheetal Angural joined the BJP. Several AAP MLAs in the state, alleged Delhi minister Saurabh Bharadwaj, had received calls and overtures from the BJP, which is offering Lok Sabha tickets and money to them.

State BJP chief Sunil Jakhar, who had quit the Congress in a huff when he was not made the chief minister after Captain Amarinder Singh, is like two peas in a pod with the same Amarinder Singh now. Singh’s wife Preneet Kaur is the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha from Patiala; their daughter Jai Inder Kaur is the president of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha in the state.

With voting on all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab scheduled for the last phase on 1 June, Singh and Jakhar have plenty of time to woo more leaders from AAP and Congress to the BJP’s fold. Of course, there is no dearth of money, as the electoral bond data shows.

Sunil Jakhar’s team is already packed with old Congress leaders. Prominent among them are Fateh Jung Bajwa (brother of Partap Singh Bajwa, the leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly), Harjot Kamal Singh, Arvind Khanna and Kewal Dhillon.

The BJP core committee also has two seasoned Congress hands, Manpreet Badal and Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi. Ravneet Singh Bittu also joined the BJP, triggering speculation that Manish Tewari would be the next.

The state is likely to see a multi-cornered contest with all major players—Congress, AAP, Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP—not entering into any alliance in the state. It was the Congress that had won 8 seats in 2019 and polled 40 per cent of the votes while BJP had fared poorly, bagging four seats in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal. While SAD had polled 27.4 per cent votes, the BJP had polled 9.6 per cent.

Amarinder Singh and Sunil Jakhar
Amarinder Singh and Sunil Jakhar

It remains to be seen how the parties manage the new converts and how voters react to the ‘Operation Lotus’. While former Indian Ambassador to US Taranjit Singh Sandhu has been declared the BJP candidate from Amritsar, it is not clear if the other former diplomat in the BJP stable, Hardeep Singh Puri, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, will contest the Lok Sabha polls or not. Puri’s six-year term in the Rajya Sabha ends this year.


Politics and entertainment

The ‘switch’ season has generated considerable amusement for people who have found similarities with the ‘auction’ of cricketers in the IPL (Indian Premier League). Indian Political league too has two party-hopping occasions—one before the assembly elections and one before the Lok Sabha elections.

This is the season when political leaders suddenly start feeling “suffocated” in their own political parties and start finding the “policies” and “personalities” in rival parties inspiring. However, it is equally true that with the blatant misuse of central agencies by the BJP, political transfers are no longer seasonal affairs but can happen any time.

A few of these switches could indeed be prompted by ideological differences or lack of inner democracy in parent parties, but most of these hops are either for greener pastures or to evade inquiries by agencies like ED, CBI, Income Tax department or the state vigilance department.


Dissenters and turncoats

In the context of Punjab’s political history, the following motivations seem to have been the more compelling reasons for political leaders changing parties like footballers changing their jersey.

  • Principle or ideology: Captain Amarinder Singh is the most outstanding example. His political career bloomed after his resignation from the Congress in the wake of Operation Blue Star in 1984. 

  • Power: Late Gurcharan Singh Nihasinghwala had described this trend as “ditching the bus that is not moving for another which is moving towards your destination”. Several ambitious politicians have used this tactic starting from Partap Singh Kairon and Laxman Singh Gill and include Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sukhpal Singh Khaira in recent times.

  • Lack of inner party democracy: The bitter experience of being sidelined by the party brass or losing the turf battle to coteries within the party have prompted “dissenters” to end up in the opposition or form their own parties. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Manpreet Badal, Pargat Singh, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi are some who fall in this category.

  • Relevance: Politics being intensely competitive, ups and down of political fortune are swift. Those who fall out of favour often find party-hopping as their only option. Jagmeet Brar and the late Bir Devinder Singh are outstanding examples. Recent migration of politicians like Rana Sodhi and Manpreet Badal to the BJP falls in this category.

  • ED and other agencies: The blatant weaponisation of the investigative agencies by the BJP is being copied by AAP in Punjab. Politicians with vast business empires or those who have accumulated a lot of “questionable wealth” are easy prey for the agencies. In Punjab, Sukhbir Badal used this ploy to sway some “diamonds” like Jathedar Jain to SAD between 2012 and 2017. Raj Kumar Chabbewal and many “rich politicians” like him are on the radar of political parties in this election season. 

There are indications though that people on the ground do not approve of party hopping. Most citizens value loyalty and frown upon ‘betrayal’.

They again have an opportunity to teach self-seeking politicians a lesson in the elections.

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