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Aam Aadmi Party as Third Player in Punjab Politics

 Despite huge organisational and political blunders, the Aam Aadmi Party is still a substantial player in Punjab's electoral politics. It does not have the organisational network that the Akali Dal has nor a popular leader such as the Congress' Amarinder Singh. However, its emergence in the state has brought to the fore the issue of regional versus Delhi-centric control of party decisions and politics



Punjab’s political arena which has had two main competitors, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Indian National Congress (—henceforth, the Congress) saw the entry of a third key player, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during the 2014 general elections. AAP won four Lok Sabha seats out of a total of 13 that it contested from Punjab (see Appendix 1). It not only lost every seat it contested elsewhere in the country but 414 out of the 434 candidates it fielded forfeited their security deposits. I attempt an explanation of this extraordinary electoral performance of AAP in Punjab in 2014 and examine its prospects for the 2017 state assembly elections.


The key to capturing this difference in Punjab lies in understanding its recent political history and more specifically the emergence and suppression of two movements in its contemporary history along with the consequences of the suppression of those movements. These two movements are: the Maoist Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and the Akali morcha (agitation) of the early 1980s for the protection of Punjab’s river water rights and for other economic, political and religious demands, and the subsequent armed Sikh opposition movement against the Operation Blue Star army action at the Golden Temple in 1984.


This article will attempt to throw light on these two movements to highlight both the similarities in the political culture of Punjab with the political culture in other states in India as well as the huge differences. I do not intend to imply that there is one uniform political culture in India outside Punjab. On the contrary, I firmly believe that there are massive interstate differences in India where I look upon the states as homelands of various nationalities at different levels of their nationality developments. I merely aim to emphasise the specificity of Punjab’s political culture in contrast to the political culture in other states in India.[1] By analysing the emergence and suppression of the two movements mentioned here, and the political and cultural fallout from the suppression of those two movements, I hope to solve the puzzle of the amazing electoral success of AAP in Punjab while it miserably failed elsewhere in the 2014 general elections. It, of course, performed spectacularly well in the Delhi assembly elections in February 2015.


The rest of the article discusses aspects of Punjab’s specificity, the Naxalite movement in Punjab and its suppression, the Akali movement and the armed Sikh resistance movement and its suppression, and the implications of the suppression of these two movements for the emergence of AAP as a political force. I will also discuss the current and future prospects of AAP in Punjab in the light of its past successes and its vulnerability due to the Haryana and non-Punjabi dimensions of its top leadership and also the Delhi-based over-centralised organisational structure of the party. Finally, I will examine, though briefly, the potentialities and limitations of the AAP challenge to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the semi-secular Congress.


The Sikh Dimension


One aspect of Punjab, which distinguishes it from all other states, is that it is the homeland of the Sikh people. Punjab is the only state where the Sikhs are in a majority. They constitute 1.7% of India’s population but about 58% of that of Punjab. About 77% of India’s total Sikh population is settled in Punjab in contrast to their marginal presence in a majority of the other states (see Appendix 2). The majority status for the Sikhs in Punjab is a relatively recent phenomenon which took place only after the territorial reorganisation of Punjab on a linguistic basis on 1 November 1966.


This duality of the Sikh location – a minority in India but a majority in Punjab – is a continuing source of political conflict and tension between the Sikh majority Punjab and Hindu majority India. This duality offers a primary insight into understanding the difference between electoral trends in Punjab and most other states. The absence of the Narendra Modi wave in Punjab during the 2014 general election when it was considered to be the major influence in other states, especially in north and west India, is a telling illustration of this dialectic.

Even when there is convergence of electoral trends in Punjab and the rest of India as, for example, during the emergence of the electoral success of regional parties in the 1967 assembly elections in many states or the anti-Congress vote in the general election after the Emergency, this convergence manifests itself through the regional specificity of Punjab. Both during the 1967 assembly elections and post-Emergency general election in 1977, the regional specificity in Punjab manifests itself through the massive electoral victories of SAD, which so far has been almost the sole articulator of Punjab’s regional interests and the Sikh community’s political aspirations[2]. This political monopoly of SAD is being questioned in the wake of political change brought about by the AAP upsurge in Punjab.


The foundations of the Sikh faith, which imparts distinctive character to Punjab’s political culture, were laid by Guru Nanak (1469–1539) who came from an upper-caste Hindu Khatri background but rebelled, even as a child, against the practices of his parents’ faith. He soon matured as a great spiritual teacher, poet and communicator choosing Punjabi, the language of the masses in Punjab, as his medium of communication in opposition to Sanskrit and Arabic chosen by the priestly class of the two dominant religions—Hindu and Islam—of that time in Punjab.


He attracted a community of followers who came to be known as “Sikh”—meaning disciple or follower (Singh 1994:1). His denunciation of the Hindu caste system and gender inequalities attracted many lower caste men and women mainly from the Hindu background but some from the Muslim background too to his fold. He also denounced the atrocities committed by the Moghul king Babur through powerful poetry and had to face a brief period of imprisonment before Babur realised that Nanak was not an ordinary political rebel and that he was a person of great spiritual learning.


This was a period of great social and political turmoil in India especially in north India. Many other spiritual leaders such as Kabir, Ravi Das and Namdev, to mention just a few, were also preaching similar views as Nanak’s in other regions of what we now call India. Guru Nanak travelled to all corners of India and beyond to meet spiritual leaders of similar leanings and to also debate with and question the traditional religious figures. What distinguished him from other saints of the Bhakti period was that he understood the importance of an organisation for spreading his teachings. Therefore, before his death, he appointed his successor Guru Angad (1504–1552) as the second guru of his followers who had come to be called “Nanakpanthis” or more generally as Sikhs.


The fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1563–1606), compiled the teachings of all the Sikh gurus but also of other spiritual teachers such as Baba Farid, Kabir and Ravi Das into a major work that came to be called Adi Granth and subsequently Shri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) which became the holy Sikh scripture.[3] It is clear from the teachings contained in the SGGS that the Sikh gurus applauded the ancient Hindu scriptures but also criticised a number of Brahmanical theological assumptions and religious practices.[4] The growing Sikh faith had to go through severe persecution but it not only survived but grew to such strength that one Sikh chieftain Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) became the sovereign ruler of the Punjab in 1799.[5] The independent sovereign state of Punjab that lasted for half a century was eventually annexed by the expanding British empire in 1849 and made a part of colonial India.


A rich heritage of their own religious scripture and the memory of having been rulers of an independent empire impart a distinctive identity to the Sikhs and their homeland Punjab. This distinctive identity is a central component of the distinctive political culture of Punjab. An understanding of this distinctive political culture is critical to grasping the background to the emergence and suppression of the two movements and the consequences of that suppression for the response that AAP has received in Punjab.


Naxalite Movement and AAP


Three socio-economic and cultural processes can be identified as contributing to the emergence of the Naxalite movement in Punjab and especially in the form in which it emerged there. One, the split in the international communist movement between the pro-Soviet Union and pro-China blocs leading to a split in India’s communist movement was the overarching and visible factor in encouraging the emergence of the Naxalite tendency in Punjab’s communist movement.[6] Two, the 1968 radical upsurge in the youth and other radical movements all over the world contributed to radicalising the educated Punjabi youth and thus facilitated their attraction towards the Naxalite movement.[7] Third, a majority of the Punjabi youth that got attracted towards this movement came from Sikh religious and cultural backgrounds[8], and the history of the evolution of the Sikh community over the last five centuries shows a tendency towards armed struggle coexisting with a non-violent one (Singh 2007).


Right from the beginning of the 20th century, a distinctive left-wing tendency that has been politically active and at times very influential among the Punjabi Sikhs has drawn upon the armed struggle tradition among the Sikhs to attract them to its political perspective and practice. The Ghadar Party activists, Kartar Singh Sarabha and the very well-known Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh are examples of the attraction towards left-wing armed struggle among Punjabi Sikhs. The emergence of the Naxalite movement in Punjab in the 1960s was not a sudden political development, it represented a strong historical bond with the militant tradition in Sikhism and the impact of this tradition on a militant left-wing tradition in Punjab. This historical bond coupled with the split in the international communist movement and the radical upsurge among the youth in the 1960s created the conditions for the rise of the Naxalite movement in Punjab. Taking any of these three dimensions singly would distort the understanding of the movement in Punjab.



This movement faced brutal state repression (Judge 1992, Singh 2010). Nearly 100 activists were physically liquidated by the Punjab police in what were presented by the latter as “encounters” (Singh 2010). It is claimed that this method of liquidation, that is, killing in police custody was innovated by the Punjab police and later transmitted to other regions[9]. Apart from these killings, there were thousands of sympathisers who were tortured, and many more thousands who were abused, harassed and monetarily exploited. The suppression of this movement left thousands of families broken, discontented, helpless and angry. These families had virtually no political home in the existing political parties. They considered the parliamentary communist parties as traitors and the non-communist parties (such as the Akali Dal, Congress, Jana Sangh/BJP, Janata) as contemptible citadels of bourgeois economic and political power. The rise of AAP in 2013–2014 meant a platform to these activists and other sympathisers. They felt fired up by the prospect of strengthening a party which could challenge the existing political parties.


Dharamvir Gandhi (the suspended AAP Member of Parliment (MP)) who defeated the Congress candidate Parneet Kaur, wife of Congress leader Amarinder Singh, from Patiala is an example of thousands of such activists, former activists and sympathisers of the Naxalite movement. He has dedicated many years of his life providing free medical services, whenever neccessary. He is a product of the Naxalite movement, and the inspiration behind his work with the poor and marginalised comes from his association with that movement. He was instrumental in building up the Punjab Students Union (PSU), the most powerful student organisation Punjab has ever seen. The PSU was closely aligned with the Naxalite movement. Thousands of students who had participated in the activities of the PSU pursued a range of different activities in the post-Naxalite phase. Some became doctors, schoolteachers, journalists, academic scholars, agriculture extension service providers and theatre activists etc, and sought meaning and purpose through work that they considered as contributing to improving the living conditions of the oppressed. Some became active in farmers’ organisations and trade unions while others joined human rights and civil liberties organisations. Yet others joined organisations like the Tarksheel Society (Rational Society). Some took to organic farming. Of course there were others who turned to alcohol in their despair or simply lost interest in any movement and immersed themselves in domestic life. Even those who became politically inactive kept themselves informed in varying degrees about the social and political changes taking place in Punjab, India and beyond.


The Naxalite movement in Punjab had especially attracted the students, rural youth and school teachers and represented the most idealistic elements of Punjabi youth. When AAP came on the scene, it was like a breath of fresh air for these idealists and erstwhile idealists who had now entered middle or late middle age. There were others from a new generation of young Naxalites or pro-Naxalites who in most cases were children of the older activists, and were active in student unions mostly in the Malwa belt of Punjab where AAP wielded much influence.


All these erstwhile activists, politically inactive sympathisers and the new activists became the foot soldiers of AAP. Their dormant energies were unleashed and they provided momentum to AAP’s political work which no other established political party in Punjab had. They played a crucial part in AAP’s electoral victories in all the four seats it won but particularly in the Faridkot and Sangrur constituencies, and to a lesser extent in the Patiala constituency. These constituencies formed areas where the Naxalite movement had had a substantial following especially among the youth.



The Sikh Militant Movement, its Suppression and the Consequences for AAP


The Sikh militant movement against the Indian state had one big similarity with the 1960s and 1970s Naxalite movement. Both inspired the Sikh youth in Punjab and both were brutally crushed by the power of the Indian state. The spread of the Sikh movement was far wider and its suppression was much deeper than the Naxalite movement (Singh 2008, 2010, Pettigrew 1995, Mahmood 1996). While the suppression of the Naxalite movement affected thousands of families, the suppression of the Sikh militant movement affected hundreds of thousands of families whose members were liquidated by India’s security forces or tortured, abused, humiliated or subjected to extortion. Punjab has 12,581 villages (Government of Punjab 2013: 3) and every village has one or more families whose members were either liquidated or tortured. Some villages had many such families, for example, Sur Singh Wala village in Amritsar district which had nearly 100 of its young men liquidated by the Indian state.[10]


This large scale suppression of a movement which was widely spread out through the state left a substantial section of the Sikh population disgruntled, angry, humiliated and rebellious but without a political home in any of the existing political parties. At one stage around 1989, these angry masses did find a political home in the Simranjeet Singh Mann-led Akali Dal and this resulted in massive election victories of candidates supported by it, in the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab[11]. However, Mann was not able to organise this support in a sustainable manner, and literally millions who had voted his candidates to victories again became homeless politically. Some of those supporters were reintegrated into the mainstream Akali Dal led by Parkash Singh Badal but a strong residue of discontentment against existing political parties remained.


The emergence of AAP on the scene electrified this N P  discontented mass. The mainstream Akali Dal’s alliance with the BJP annoyed this discontented mass. However, the Akali Dal led by Mann did not inspire confidence among them except in a small section that had long-term personal ties with Mann. It is this discontented mass which migrated almost en masse towards AAP and ensured its electoral victories. The election of Harinder Singh Khalsa from Fatehgarh Sahib, in particular, showed the strength of this stream of AAP’s electoral support base. Khalsa had resigned in 1984 from his Indian Foreign Service post in Norway in protest against Operation Blue Star, and had acquired popularity among the supporters of the Sikh militant movement.


Diaspora, Punjabi Hindus and Dalits


Apart from the pro-Naxalite and pro-Sikh militancy sections of the Punjabi population which ensured AAP’s electoral victories, there were three other sources of support for the party. One was the enthusiastic support of the Sikh diaspora, the second was the upper-caste Hindu youth in Punjab, and the third was Dalit voters. The reason behind the diaspora’s support to AAP can be traced to the support extended to it by pro-Naxalite and pro-Sikh militancy sections of Punjab’s population. Many supporters and activists of the Naxalite and Sikh militant movements had migrated to escape state repression.


They were dissatisfied with all the existing Indian mainstream political parties, and became enthusiastic supporters of AAP. Many Punjabi migrants to the West had experienced life which was free from day-to-day corruption. They longed for such a state of affairs in their native state of Punjab and AAP offered them hope of such a corruption-free future. The diaspora played an active part not only in generating generous financial resources for AAP but also in persuading their relatives and family members in Punjab to vote for AAP candidates.


The upper-caste Hindu youth especially in the towns of the Malwa region of Punjab where AAP candidates won, and the Dalit voters especially in the Doaba belt where their numbers are substantial, formed the other two sections of supporters. The former were different in their political orientation than the older generation that had witnessed the partition and its aftermath and was much more sympathetic to either the open Hindu nationalism of the BJP or the veiled Hindu nationalism of the semi-secular Congress.


This new generation was not particularly attracted to the Akali Dal although a few politically ambitious among them did hitch themselves to the Akali Dal[12]. This new generation was not even attracted to left-wing ideologies partly because of their class location in the trading communities of Punjab but were fascinated byAAP’s rise to power in Delhi. Through the process of elimination, AAP seemed like an attractive political home to semi-idealistic sections of the upper-caste Punjabi Hindu youth. In addition to this, Arvind Kejriwal was projected in some urban circles as the most popular political leader to emerge in India from the Bania caste, and this had some success in attracting Punjabi Hindus from that caste to AAP’s fold.


The Dalit voters were disillusioned with the Congress, a party they had supported for many years.They were also disappointed with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) due to what they saw as the opportunism of many of its leaders who fell prey to the politics of patronage resorted to by upper-caste leaders in order to co-opt leading Dalits into mainstream parties (Singh 2016a). AAP’s substantial support among the Dalits in Delhi captured the imagination of Dalit voters in Punjab and this resulted in massive voting by Punjabi Dalit voters in favour of AAP. Though AAP did not win any seat in the Doaba belt where Dalit vote is substantial, its candidates, even the ones who were complete novices in politics, managed to get lakhs of votes. In the two Doaba constituencies of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur, AAP scored 24.42% and 22.19% of the vote respectively while in Anandpur Sahib which is a mixture of Doaba and Malwa areas, the AAP candidate got 28.14% votes (see Appendix 1).


Current Position and Prospects of AAP for the 2017 Election


Due to various factors but primarily due to its internal organisational problems, AAP has not managed to keep up the momentum it had gained in Punjab during the 2014 general elections. Apart from isolated errors of judgment by the Delhi-based central leadership of AAP regarding its organisational structure in Punjab, the roots of its organisational problems lie in the over-centralised organisation and mode of functioning. This is further confounded by the fact that the central leadership of the party does not have any Punjab-based leaders.


The party’s leadership did not understand the Punjab specificity behind its 2014 success and has consequently made serious organisational and political blunders. One of the most serious of such blunders was in removing its founding convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur from the convenorship on the basis of a frivolous and unproven allegation that he had accepted `2 lakhs from a party supporter. It has widely come to be believed in Punjab that Chhotepur’s removal was motivated more by the desire to strengthen the hold of the Delhi-based leadership over the Punjab unit than to weed out corruption as officially proclaimed.


Chhotepur responded by pointing out that his entire political career has been without any blemish, and that this ouster has been masterminded by Haryana-and UP-based political leaders to weaken the hold of Punjab-based leaders in the Punjab unit of the AAP. This row has thrown into sharp relief the contradiction facing all political parties in Punjab (except the Akali Dal). While they have to win over Punjab’s voters, their politics and organisational set up is controlled by their Delhi-centred parties which are not governed by the interests of Punjab but by how it fits into their all-India political strategy.


This contradiction has especially acquired importance for AAP because Punjab is the only state in India from where it won Lok Sabha seats and from where at one stage, it seemed it could win the election to the Punjab assembly. The media coverage of Chhotepur’s ouster has highlighted this glaring weakness of AAP’s Punjab organisational set-up especially as it comes after two of its MPs—Gandhi representing the pro-Naxalite stream and Khalsa representing the pro-Sikh militancy stream of its support base—had rebelled against what they characterised as Kejriwal’s authoritarian mode of functioning and Delhi-centric anti-Punjab policies.


A shocking lack of sensitivity to Punjab’s cultural specificity by AAP’s Delhi-based leadership was highlighted when the party while issuing its youth manifesto compared it to the Guru Granth Sahib and the cover page of which showed the party’s election symbol of a broom superimposed on the image of the Golden Temple. Kejriwal rushed to the Golden Temple to apologise for this desecration (Indian Express 2016a). However, this penance could not fully undo the damage that had been done.


 Chhotepur has floated a new party Aapna Punjab Party (APP) with the sole purpose of drawing a sharp attention to the absence of Punjabi organisational control of AAP in the state. Of all AAP political leaders in Punjab, he is the most experienced with a clear mass base in Gurdaspur district, his home district. The charge levelled by the Delhi-based leadership against him has not stuck and his credibility instead of being damaged has been enhanced. He is being seen as a victim of a conspiracy hatched by Haryana-and UP-based political leaders who hold the top leadership positions in the party’s central organisation in Delhi. Similarly, the rebel AAP MP Gandhi has forged the Punjab Front whose major stance is that Punjab needs a region-based party free from Delhi’s control.


In order to strengthen its Punjab credentials against this attack both from inside as well as from outside by the Akali Dal and Congress, AAP has been forced to reach an alliance with one purely Punjab-based organisation called the Lok Insaaf Party, launched by two Akali rebel Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) known as the Bains brothers. This move which is contrary to its declared policy of not reaching an alliance with any party is a desperate damage control attempt by AAP.


Despite huge organisational and political blunders, AAP is still a substantial player in Punjab’s electoral politics. It does not have the organisational network that the Akali Dal has and nor does it have a popular leader like the Congress’ Amarinder Singh who defeated Arun Jaitley, the BJP candidate, from Amritsar in 2014 with a margin of over one lakh votes. Amarinder Singh was strongly supported by the Sikh voters for his brave decision in resigning from the Congress party and Lok Sabha as a protest against Operation Blue Star. The Sikh voters chose him over AAP’s Daljit Singh despite the latter’s high profile professional and social standing because in choosing Amarinder Singh, they wanted to make a clear political statement against Jaitley whose party had supported Operation Blue Star. The weakness of the Congress in Punjab, however, is that apart from Amarinder Singh, the party has nothing else to show. The Congress has lost its old urban Hindu and Dalit support base.


There is a strong anti-incumbency resentment against the Akali–BJP government. The Akali Dal is more likely to be adversely affected by this than the BJP. The BJP support base among urban upper-caste Hindu voters is intact and both Congress and AAP are unlikely to defeat the BJP in the Hindu majority urban constituencies. Amarinder Singh’s popularity among Sikh voters might negatively affect the Congress in Hindu majority constituencies. In contrast, the Bania caste’s support for Kejriwal might prove useful for AAP in some constituencies especially where the margin of voting between the three competitors might be small.


Between AAP and Akali Dal, the support network for AAP is more visible because of the activist–volunteer background of the political streams supporting AAP. In contrast, Akali Dal has a substantial but undemonstrative support base especially in the rural areas where many of its elderly supporters do not attend rallies and demonstrations.


In the midst of this electoral competition between the three main players in Punjab, the damage to AAP from its Punjab imbroglio of organisational and political blunders has been further deepened by charges of corruption and moral turpitude charges against some AAP ministers in Delhi who had to be sacked from their cabinet positions.


It is unlikely that AAP will win the assembly election in Punjab but even if it does manage to do so, its credibility as a potential national alternative to Congress and BJP has been severely undermined by the recent splits in its Punjab unit and the ouster of its three ministers in Delhi.



AAP staged stunning electoral victories from Punjab during the 2014 general elections. This was in sharp contrast to its candidates losing every seat it contested in the rest of India. The explanation of AAP’s unique electoral success in Punjab lies in the specificity of Punjab namely that it is the only Sikh majority state in India. Two movements in Punjab which had substantial base amongst the Sikh population—the Maoist/Naxalite movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Sikh militant movement against the Indian state in the 1980s and 1990s—were crushed brutally by state terrorism.


The suppression of these two movements left large sections of the Sikh population angry and humiliated and at the same time without a political home among any of the existing political parties. The emergence of AAP on the political scene energised sections of the Sikh population that had been left discontented as a result of the suppression of these two movements. These politically reactivated individuals and groups with backgrounds in the Naxalite and Sikh militant movements provided the enthusiastic foot soldiers for AAP’s election machine in Punjab. No other political party had been able to win such a large number of activists especially from the younger generation to their party fold. These activists were the key to the electoral success of AAP in Punjab in 2014.


Between 2014 and 2017, a contradiction that already existed in AAP’s organisational set up in terms of the conflict between the need for regionally-responsive politics and centrally-controlled organisational arrangement, became more acute with the emergence of open conflict between the Punjab-based leadership and the Delhi based central leadership. In one sense, this contradiction is not unique to Punjab. All the major political parties in India are centrally controlled and that is one reason that state-based regional parties have been growing in all the states, especially in the non-Hindi speaking ones. The Akali Dal in Punjab represents this regionally-oriented turn in politics.


However, its close alliance with the Hindu nationalist BJP deprived the Akali Dal from legitimately claiming that it represented the regional interests of Punjab in the same way that the regional parties of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were able to do. This weakness of Akali Dal politics opened a door for AAP to claim that it represented Punjab’s and especially the Sikh interests. The turmoil in Punjab’s AAP unit in the form of Punjab based leadership being undermined by the non-Punjabi leadership in the central organisational set-up in Delhi has weakened that claim. It was further weakened by leaders who hail from Haryana being in control of the central party machine in Delhi. Due to several interstate conflicts between Haryana and Punjab, AAP’s claim of representing Punjab’s interests gets further undermined.


With its weakening in Punjab, AAP becomes a weak political rival at an all-India level to the BJP and Congress.[13] Had it remained strong in Punjab and carried that strength to other states, AAP might have replaced the Congress as the main rival of the BJP and might have even emerged as a stronger rival to the BJP than the Congress has ever been. In that sense, it is a setback to the emergence of a stronger all-India rival to the BJP.


One significant political outcome from AAP’s entry into Punjab politics as a key player is that the issue of Punjab politics being governed by Punjab politicians and not Delhi-based centralised leaders has acquired importance like never before. All political parties—the Congress, BJP, BSP, Communist Party of India, Communist of India-Marxist, and CPI Marxist-Leninist—are underplaying the role of their central leaders and projecting greater decision-making powers to their state-based leadership. Additionally, three new political parties—the APP, Punjab Front and LIP—have emerged which are solely Punjab based and, for the first time in Punjab’s political history, are challenging the Akali Dal to be the sole articulator of Punjab’s regional interests. Irrespective of how AAP performs in the 2017 assembly elections, this will be paradoxically its lasting and valuable contribution to Punjab politics, that is, the accentuations of regionalisation of politics in Punjab.


(I wish to acknowledge the research assistance provided by Rajkamal Singh Mann and the information supplied by many others who chose to remain anonymous. The usual disclaimer applies.)





Brar, Bhupinder (1994): Explaining Communist Crises. Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

Garewal, Naveen (2008): ‘Poll Analysis: Akalis expanding urban foothold’, Tribune, July 2.

Government of Punjab (2013): Statistical Abstract of Punjab, Chandigarh, Economic Advisor to Government of Punjab.

Judge, Paramjit Singh (1992): Insurrection to Agitation: The Naxalite Movement in Punjab, Bombay: Popular Prakashan

Mahmood, CK (1996): Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pettigrew, J (1995): The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State and Guerrilla Violence, London: Zed Books.

Singh, Harbans (1994): The Heritage of the Sikhs, 2nd edn, Delhi: Manohar.

Singh, Patwant and Rai, Jyoti (2009): Empire of the Sikhs: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Penguin Books: New Delhi.

Singh, Pritam (1985): “Marxism in Punjab,” EPW, March 30, Vol 20, No 13 (30 March 1985), pp 543–544.

Singh, Pritam (1997): “Marxism, Indian State and Punjab,” International Journal of Punjab Studies, Vol 4, No 2, pp 237–250.

Singh, Pritam (1999): “Capital, State and Nation in India: Reflections with Reference to Punjab,” International Journal of Punjab Studies, Vol 6, No 1, pp 85–99, January–June.

Singh, Pritam (2007): “Political Economy of the Cycles of Violence and Non-Violence in the Sikh Struggle for Identity and Political Power: Implications for Indian federalism,” Third World Quarterly, 28(3) pp 555–70.

Singh, Pritam (2008): Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy, Routledge, London/New York ( a paperback edition and also a Special Indian reprint in 2009).

Singh, Pritam (2010): Economy, Culture and Human Rights: Turbulence in Punjab, India and Beyond, Three Essays Collective, Delhi.

Singh, Pritam (2011): “Punjab’s Electoral Competition,” Economic & Political Weekly, 10 February, pp 466–67.

Singh, Pritam (2014): “Class, nation and religion: Changing nature of Akali Politics in Punjab, India,” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 52:1, pp 55–77, February.

Singh, Pritam (2016): “The origins, influence, suppression and resilience of the Maoist/Naxalite movement in India: 1967–present,” Socialist History, No 50, pp 85–104.

Singh, Pritam (2016a): “Punjab’s Dalits and politics of patronage,” Tribune, December 16.

Singh, Pritam (2017): “Aam Admi Party’s electoral success in Punjab and its current turmoil: Implications for an all India political scenario,” Mujibur Rehman (ed) Rise of Saffron Power: Reflections on Indian Politics (Routledge 2017 forthcoming).

—: “Punjab’s Dalits and politics of patronage,” December 16.

Indian Express (2016): “AAP apologises for using Golden Temple image on cover of youth manifesto,” July 5.

(2016a): “Arvind Kejriwal Cleans Dishes at Golden Temple as Penance,” July 18.

Tribune (2006): “SAD all-inclusive party, says Badal,” 22August.

Appendix 1 Vote share and results of General Elections 2014 for Punjab State




Percent of Votes Secured


Over total electors in constituency

Over total votes polled in constituency































Khadoor Sahib













































Anandpur Sahab






























Fatehgarh Sahab


























































































Source: Election Commission of India



Appendix 2: The Sikh share in the population of India, Punjab and the other states of India


Religious composition of India’s population 2001 and 2011 (%)
















Adapted from:

Source of data: For 2001

Source of data: For 2011


Religious composition of Punjab’s population 2001 and 2011 (%)
















Adapted from:

Source of data: For 2001

Source of data: For 2011


Punjab’s religious communities as a share of their all India

population 2001 and 2011
















Adapted from:

Source of data: For 2001

Source of data: For 2011


Sikh’s as a share of the state’s population 2011 (%)


Percentage of Sikhs



Jammu & Kashmir


Himachal Pradesh










Nct Of Delhi




Uttar Pradesh






Arunachal Pradesh














West Bengal








Madhya Pradesh




Daman & Diu


Dadra & Nagar Haveli




Andhra Pradesh










Tamil Nadu




Andaman & Nicobar Islands


Adapted from:

Source of data: For 2011











[1] For a further elaboration of this point, see Singh (1999, 2008).

[2] See Singh 2014 for an analysis of the dynamics of Akali Dal politics in Punjab and India.

[3] Of the 1,430 pages of SGGS, nearly one third contain the teachings of Sufis and Bhagats.

[4] I am currently developing my thoughts on this dialectically contradictory relationship between Sikh thought (as enshrined in SGGS) and the Hindu tradition. My current thinking is that Sikhism is neither just one of the  variants of Sanatani Hindu tradition as the Hindutva ideologists would want the Sikhs to believe nor is it totally unrelated to that tradition as the proponents of complete Sikh sovereignty articulate although there is more weight in the sovereignty view.

[5] See Singh and Rai 2009.

[6] See Brar 1994 for a helpful explanation of the communist splits worldwide and their impact on India’s communist splits.

[7] See Singh 2016 for the 1968 context of the emergence of the Naxalite movement.

[8] See Singh 1985, 1997 for a further development of this aspect.

[9] A senior Punjab police officer confided in me about a conversation he allegedly had with Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister during the period of the upsurge of the Naxalite movement. He was escortingher at the Chandigarh airport, when she shared with him her worries about the Naxalite movement in Bengal. The officer told her that the “Punjab method” which believed in “kill them after arresting them and declare that they were killed in encounter” could be the solution. This officer claimed or rather boasted that after this suggestion of his, the Punjab method was copied in other states in India.

[10] This is based on the information supplied by Gurcharan Singh Chani in his documentary on state repression in Punjab which covered the village in depth. Chani has clarified  (in personal correspondence) that “it was not a film and that it was raw footage which was unedited. It had no commentary and contained only the interviews of the villagers. It was shot in 1989 and shown to select friends.” I had the privilege of being one of those  friends.

[11] During that election, both the father and the widow of Beant Singh, Indira Gandhi’s security guard who had assassinated her because of her decision to send the army into the Golden Temple in 1984 Operation Blue Star, won massive electoral victories in the Lok Sabha election due to the Sikhs voting as a collective retaliation against the Operation Blue Star.

[12] I identified and analysed the dimension of Hindu entry into Akali Dal in Singh (2011). See also Garewal 2008 and the Tribune 2006.

[13] For a more detailed discussion of this aspect, see Singh 2017 (forthcoming).

Updated On : 20th Jan, 2017
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