ATTARI, India – Charanjit Singh Channi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab, has many factors in driving a successful election campaign in Indian politics.
He’s from the state’s dominant party. He’s eliminated last-minute sweeteners, by waiving utility bills and offering discounts on essentials like fuel. And he has captured the imagination of India’s fierce TV scene, providing viral moments that depict the 58-year-old sheriff, a former handball player, as a man of the people: sudden import bhangra leap routine at debate events; stop his official convoy to help an injured cyclist; congrats one newlywed couple on the road.
However, when this state of 30 million votes on Sunday to elect its new government, Mr. Channi is the underdog. Not only are opposition parties trying to oust his Indian National Congress party from one of the last states where it remains in power, but his own ranks are in disarray amid the infighting. messy internals.
The Punjab vote is being seen as a broader test of whether Parliament, which has governed India for most of its history since independence from British rule, can prevent the the country’s sharp decline in recent years following the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or not. At the national level, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has established itself as an undisputed force in successive national elections to the extent that India’s democracy increasingly resembles one-party rule. analysts and observers.
Mr. Channi, in a mid-campaign interview, acknowledged the pressures from his situation in a race of importance to Parliament, not just Punjab, adding that he was just practicing Focus on what you can do. “I work hard, with dignity and effort, and the rest is up to the public.”
The Congress Party, led by members of the Gandhi family, is a shadow of the former political party, with less than 10% of the seats in Parliament and leading governments in only three of the country’s 28 states. India. The party has won some local elections, but not enough to spur a national renaissance. Other regional parties trying to form a coalition to challenge Mr. Modi have expressed frustration with what they see as Parliament’s sense of historic rights, even though its numbers are dwindling.
Several parties, including Mr. Modi’s BJP, are trying to win seats when the votes for the Punjab parliament are agreed next month, along with the results of ongoing elections in several other states. . In Punjab, an agricultural state grappling with farmer debt and rising unemployment, its main rival is the Aam Admi Party, which is trying to expand nationwide after taking power in the capital in a movement. anti-corruption protests.
Rahul Verma, a political scientist at the Center for Policy Studies in New Delhi, said: “A new game has begun between India’s opposition parties – cannibalism in front of Parliament.
Mr. Verma said Parliament’s woes to the point of even winning in Punjab will not move to broader momentum. If Congress loses, the damage could be more deadly – the party will struggle to justify clinging to a role he describes as the “natural leader of the opposition”.
“If Channi succeeds in getting through it, it’s a positive morale booster, but it doesn’t mean Congress can significantly improve its situation nationally,” Mr Verma said. ”
Parliament’s victory in Punjab in 2017 followed major setbacks, including in the 2014 national elections when Mr. Modi first came to power. The party’s leaders want their victory in Punjab to be seen as the impetus for the nation’s comeback.
“Congress will revive from here, take its energy from Punjab and spread it,” Rahul Gandhi said afterwards Winning 2017. “Mark my words.”
That didn’t happen. The party suffered another sweeping defeat at the hands of Mr. Modi in the 2019 general election, its position dwindling in the National Parliament to the point where there are not enough seats to claim the leadership of the party. oppose side.
Its government in Punjab has been weakened by mismanagement, as discontent has grown due to pressure on farmers, rising prices and worsening unemployment. Amrinder Singh, the prime minister, was deemed so out of touch that he began to face uprisings from within his government.
Months before the parliamentary elections, the leadership of the National Assembly replaced Mr. Singh. But the shaking, and the mockery of his replacement, split the party’s ranks. Amid the friction, Mr. Gandhi, who with his mother and sister has run the party in recent years, made what has been hailed as an inspiring choice. He has chosen Mr Channi as the new prime minister, making him the first Dalit, from a community at the bottom of India’s caste system, to hold office in Punjab.
“I started crying,” said Mr Channi, whose father runs a small shop for wedding tent rentals, about receiving a call announcing he was prime minister.
Mr Channi, formerly a cabinet minister under Mr Singh, has about four months to repair some of the damage before Sunday’s election. But other party leaders continue to see him as a workable backstop.
Just two weeks before the vote, Mr. Gandhi reaffirmed that Congress would oppose the Punjab election with Mr. Channi as their leader.
After being dismissed as prime minister, Mr. Singh quickly formed his own party and teamed up with Mr. Modi’s BJP to create a coalition. The party of Congress tried to assuage some anti-incumbent sentiment in Punjab by blaming Mr. Singh. For his part, Mr Singh has criticized Parliament for the attack on his own records.
“Everybody in Punjab knows that Parliament has done nothing in the last 5 years but make money,” said Singh said in a recent interview with Indian media.
The Aam Aadmi Party, or Ordinary People’s Party, founded by an anti-corruption crusader, has tried to see itself as the answer to Punjab’s woes of health and education. Their members point out their achievement in improving government school attendance in Delhi. During a “road show” on the final day of the campaign in Amristar, a convoy of hundreds of cars, trucks, and motorbikes raced through the streets calling on voters “for a assembly” for the party.
At one of Mr Channi’s rallies outside the city, thousands of people who had gathered – on tractors, buses and motorbikes – waited for about four hours, entertained by a live band, before when the prime minister arrives.
Jagroop Singh Sandhu, a 33-year-old farmer in the crowd, admitted he was tired of Parliament’s mismanagement and infighting. But Channi’s ability to connect with people, he said, is creating a race about him rather than about the party.
“There was a Channi wave,” said Mr. Sandhu. “It will be about what he has shown in his three months.”
While driving amid protests on Friday, Mr Channi stopped his convoy when he saw a group of children playing soccer and ran to the yard. The children crowded around him excitedly. He took turns taking free-kicks on goal, and then playing goalkeeper – a skill that won him scholarships during his high school and college days when he played handball – when the kids take the shot.
His media team quickly posted One video on his Twitter account, edited in a way to show Mr Channi as both the shooter and the defender of the same shot – an apt metaphor for his team’s race.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/20/world/asia/india-election-punjab-congress-party.html India’s Congress Party faces test of survival as Punjab votes