ElectionAn overview of Punjab's political history: Coalitions, agitations, and the Rule of...

An overview of Punjab’s political history: Coalitions, agitations, and the Rule of Law

The state did not enjoy political stability until the end of militancy in the mid-1990s, when the government alternated between democratically elected Akali Dal-BJP governments and the Congress.

The history of Punjab in independent India begins with a series of coalitions, short-lived governments born of fractured mandates, punctuated with periods of President’s Rule, amidst several agitations. The state only experienced political stability after the end of the militancy in the mid-1990s, when the Akali Dal-BJP and the Congress alternated in power. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made it the first three-cornered election in the state when it won 77 of the 117 seats in the Assembly in 2017, after the Congress swept to power.
Punjab is set to have its first multi-cornered election next month – in an election that will follow the longest farmer agitation since independence.

Punjab Post-Partition

Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava was the first chief minister of Punjab under an alliance between the Congress and the Akalis. Master Tara Singh was demanding protections for Sikhs from then Akali leader Tara Singh when the Constituent Assembly refused. That ended the uneasy relationship in April 1949. The state was under President’s Rule for the first time in 1951.
As a result of the 1952 elections, the Akalis fought the Congress over Punjabi Suba (a state organized on linguistic lines), but fell short and Bhim Sen Sachar became Chief Minister. In 1956, Earlier this year, Sachar was replaced by former PCC chief Partap Singh Kairon, a graduate of Berkeley’s economics department who was tasked with rehabilitating Pakistani refugees.
Two consecutive elections for the Congress were won by Kairon. It was the Punjabi Suba movement that dominated the elections in 1962, winning only 19 out of 154 seats. Kariron served as Chief Minister until 1964, when he was tragically assassinated.

The reorganization of the state

Akalis under Sant Fateh Singh continued to agitate for a Punjabi Suba, but suspended it in 1966 during the Indo-Pak war. A linguistic division of the state took place in September 1966, resulting in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. In Punjab, it coincided with the Green Revolution and led to the emergence of a new political discourse centered on Centre-state relations and opposition to the Congress, a party affiliated with the Centre.
This era saw four short-lived post-poll coalitions. In 1967, an anti-Congress alliance led by Gurnam Singh fell after eight months after Akali legislators defected and formed a government with outside help from the Congress. This government lasted only nine months under CM Lachman Singh Gill, and was followed by midterm elections in 1969 that led to the formation of the Akali-Jana Sangh coalition government headed by Gurnam Singh.
The Jana Sangh pulled out of this government after a little more than a year as well.
It was followed by Parkash Singh Badal’s elevation to the position of chief minister in March 1970. Unfortunately, too, his government only lasted 15 months. The President’s Rule followed.
In 1972, Congress was re-elected under Giani Zail Sinagh.
Indira Gandhi’s Emergency led to a powerful anti-Congress wave in Punjab.
In the 1977 elections, the Akalis won a record 58 seats under the umbrella of the Janata Party in alliance with the CPI and CPM. However, the Nirankaris and the Jana Sangh soon came after the Parkash Singh Badal government, which had a very small ministry of 16.

1980s: A dark decade

During this phase, extremists who advocated secession took the lead over moderate Akalis, who advocated autonomy. Upon her return to power in 1980, Indira overthrew nine non-Congress state governments, including the Punjab government. On May 30, 1980, elections followed President’s Rule, and the Congress returned to power with Darbara Singh as its Chief Minister. Punjab, however, had already fallen into a state of violence.
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other extremists were appeased by the ruling party. In October 1983, the Centre had to impose President’s Rule after the policy backfired, resulting in violence throughout Punjab. The Centre let the situation drift and the on-off talks between the two sides resulted in Operation Bluestar in June 1984, and Indira’s revenge assassination by her bodyguards, followed by antisikh violence in October.
Surjit Singh Barnala led the Akali Dal to the throne after winning the elections in 1985. The Rajiv-Longowal Accord framed the backdrop for the elections. As they ran amok in the countryside, the “boys” — or “munde,” as they were called by the militants — had acquired weapons and ammunition from across the border. In the summer of 1987, Barnala was removed and President’s Rule was imposed.

The 1990s: The return of peace

Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh with PV Narasimha Rao.
Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh with PV Narasimha Rao.

Assembly elections were held in 1992 following five years of President’s Rule. The Akali Dal boycotted the elections, Only 24 percent of voters turned out, but it was an important first step. The Congress chief minister, Beant Singh, whose term saw a crackdown on militancy coupled with disenchantment with the separatist movement, remained chief minister from 1992 until he was assassinated at the Punjab secretariat in Chandigarh in 1995. In his place were Harcharan Singh Brar and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, the first woman to serve as chief minister.
At this time, the panthic Akali Dal transformed itself into a party that included all Punjabis. In 1996, the Moga Declaration was issued. Parkash Singh Badal, then party president, stated that Akali Dal represented Punjab, Punjabi, and Punjabiyat. In 1997, when the SAD-BJP coalition came to power, Badal was the first Chief Minister since Kairon’s resignation in 1964 to serve a full term following the SAD-BJP coalition’s election in 1997. Moreover, he introduced populism to the militancy-torn state by offering free power and water to its farmers, launching a trend of doles that continues to this day.
In the state, it is the first time a coalition government has ruled for a full double term, ruling for 10 years from 2007 to 2017. After serving his full term as CM, Badal was succeeded by Amarinder Singh, the CPI-Congress coalition led by Capt Amarinder Singh. Known for his work on the twin issues of drugs and sacrilege, he returned as CM in 2017 with a record mandate. In the party, Amarinder’s tenure was cut short due to a revolt against his alleged inaccessibility and failure to act on crucial issues plaguing the state.
Charanjit Singh Channi was appointed after Amarinder Singh was replaced by the Congress with barely months left before the election, making him the first Dalit Chief Minister of the state with the highest percentage of Scheduled Castes (32%).
2022: Too many candidates
Farmers at the forefront of a year-long agitation against the three farm laws forced Modi government to relent, and now the state is poised for its first multi-corner contest amid changing political equations.
According to reports, the Akalis, who left the BJP after protests against the three laws, have partnered with the BSP; while the BJP has allied with Capt Amarinder’s new Lok Congress Party and Sanyukt’s SAD (Sanyukt). Rather than unite with the AAP, the farmer-driven Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) aims to form a joint front of “kisan, mazdoor, and vyapari.”

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