Over the length of its current tenure, Punjab's Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has sought to become more a socially inclusive party, more responsive to popular demands, and even to improve service delivery and eradicate corruption. However, despite these lofty goals, it has also presided over what people refer to as ‘goonda raj’—a rule of thugs—and has managed to alienate large sections of the population and, in the process, fuelled the rise of the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party in the state. In this article, based on ethnographic fieldwork in rural Malwa, I attempt to shed light on the roots of this contradiction. Is it simply the case, as ordinary people allege, that the SAD's claims are empty and that its members are merely interested in looting the state? Or, alternatively, is it the case that the party merely operates in accordance with Punjab's allegedly time-honoured tradition of rival factions competing to appropriate the spoils of power? I suggest instead that much of the corruption and violence observable at the village level in Punjab has its roots in the antagonistic relationship between the Congress Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal. It is this antagonism that appears to fuel the SAD's highly partisan form of government, and it is partisan government that appears to fuel the corruption and the village-level factional conflict that is documented in this article.