Electoral politics in India, particularly in the Indian States, has acquired its own dynamism and complexity. While it gets impacted by socio-economic factors—local, State level and national—it also impacts the society and polity through social and political alliances as well as voting patterns. Political strategies of parties and leaders are fine-tuned in accordance with local factors—social structure, economy (including scarcity, needs and demands) and politics—as well as the national narrative that political parties bring in. Voter responses are determined by a mix of these as well as their perception of how parties and leaders are attempting to fulfil their needs. Since most Indian States are not homogenous, there are regional variations that bring in electoral volatility.
Punjab, on which this well-written, slim book under review focuses, is not an exception. The State ranks twentieth in terms of territory (50,362 square km) and sixteenth in terms of population (2,77,43,338, according to 1971 Census). It consists of three regions—Malwa, Majha and Doaba. Each has its own distinct nature of politics. According to 2011 Census, Sikhs constitute 57.69 per cent of the population, while Hindus constitute 38.49 per cent and Muslims constitute 1.93 per cent. Dalits (Scheduled Castes), including Mazhabi Sikh, Ramdassia Sikh, Balmiki and others, constitute 31.9 per cent. Regional variation and demographic texture of the State bring in a distinctiveness in the electoral politics in Punjab. What also needs to be underlined in the context of Punjab, not only in the contemporary scenario, but also since Independence, is the unique mix of religion and politics here. Despite the mosaic described above, the State has developed a bipolar party system—Congress, which at times has electorally aligned with the Communists, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which has been in electoral alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in most elections, form the two poles of the party system and define party competition in Punjab. The bipolar party system has emerged in the State despite the Akali Dal having had a fractious history, with part of it having flirted with extremist politics.