The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was the giantkiller in Punjab, wresting four of the state’s 13 parliamentary seats, restricting the BJP-Akali Dal tally to six and pushing the Congress down to three.
Punjab was, in fact, the only state where the AAP won any seats in the country. Its vote share of 24.5 per cent is unprecedented for a party apart from the Akalis and the Congress in the state.
The Congress must have gained some solace from Amarinder Singh’s win in Amritsar, but most of its sitting MPs as well as its state PCC chief, Partap Singh Bajwa, lost.
While the Akali Dal-BJP tally rose by one from 2009, there were no signs of a Narendra Modi wave. The alliance lost in all the big-city constituencies of Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Patiala, perhaps paying a stiff price for the imposition of property tax in municipal areas. Modi had rallied in Ludhiana and Amritsar two days before voting day.
In Bathinda, where Harsimrat Kaur was up against husband and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s breakaway cousin Manpreet Singh Badal, it was a day of twists and turns. Her winning margin never crossed 25,000 at any point. Harsimrat will be the only woman MP from Punjab in the new Lok Sabha.
The AAP’s four winners — it contested all the 13 seats — included comedian Bhagwant Mann, retired professor Sadhu Singh, cardiologist Dr Dharamvir Gandhi and former diplomat Harinder Singh Khalsa. Lawyer-activist H S Phoolka, who has long fought for the victims of anti-Sikh riots of 1984, finished at No. 2 in Ludhiana after giving early jitters to the Congress’s Ravneet Bittu and the Akali Dal’s Manpreet Singh Ayali. The seat was won by Bittu.
Mann won from Sangrur by a margin of more than 2.1 lakhs, a new record for the state, defeating the Akali Dal’s Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa. Congress sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla was placed third. Prof Singh recorded the second highest victory margin in the state, 1.7 lakh votes, against sitting Akali MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan.
In Patiala, Congress heavyweight and three-time sitting MP and Union External Affairs Minister Preneet Kaur fell to AAP’s Dr Gandhi, a philanthropist cardiologist. Khalsa was a surprise winner from Fatehgarh Sahib.
AAP performance is seen as a result of the anti-incumbency sentiment against both the Akali Dal plus ally BJP in the state and the Congress at the Centre.
While the Congress’s vote share of 33 per cent was the highest in Punjab, AAP cut into over 7 per cent of the votes secured by it and 8 per cent of the votes the Akalis got in the 2012 Assembly polls.
The BJP improved its performance in Punjab too, increasing its vote share by 1 per cent since 2012. However, senior leader Arun Jaitley’s embarrassing loss to Amarinder will put a strain on its ties with the Akali Dal. The BJP blames the loss entirely on its partner.
The Congress was reduced to three MPs from eight. Its strategy of fielding heavyweights may have backfired as it confined Amarinder, Ambika Soni (Anandpur Sahib) and Congress legislative party leader Sunil Jakhar (Ferozepur) to their own seats. Both Soni and Jakhar lost, to the Akali Dal’s Prem Singh Chandumajra and Sher Singh Gubhaya respectively.
PCC chief Bajwa, who is likely to come under pressure, was humbled by the BJP’s Vinod Khanna in Gurdaspur, losing by more than 1.25 lakh votes.
Amarinder, who beat BJP heavyweight Arun Jaitley by 1 lakh votes, put all into the fight, not leaving his constituency to even campaign for wife Preneet Kaur, who lost.
The victorious four of AAP
A popular Punjabi comedian, Bhagwant Mann had joined the AAP in March after resigning from Manpreet Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab. He was a close aide of Manpreet but the duo fell out once the PPP decided to ally with the Congress. Mann had been alleging that he had paid a price for joining the PPP as he was blacked out by the ruling combine on TV. He had unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections from Lehragaga, losing to the Congress’ Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
Dr Dharamvir Gandhi
A philanthropist and cardiologist from Patiala, Gandhi once spent two months in slums of Ludhiana to study diseases afflicting labourers. He joined AAP during the Anna Hazare movement. A well-known cardiologist — who charges Rs 20 from middle class patients and provides consultation free of cost to the poor at his clinic, Gandhi is a household name in Patiala.
Prof Sadhu Singh
A retired principal, Prof Sadhu Singh was an irrigation department draughtsman in Chandigarh in 1961. He became college lecturer in English in 1970. It was during his time as a lecturer at the Government Brijindra College in Faridkot between 1971 and 1999 that Singh became increasingly popular. He published two poetry books Pyasi Mehak and Saleeb Te Sargam and earned reviews of being a sensitive poet.
Harinder S Khalsa
A former diplomat, Harinder Singh Khalsa resigned when he was serving in Norway after Operation Bluestar. He remained in exile for the tenure of former Prime Minister V P Singh before returning to the country settling down in Ludhiana. He remained a secretary in SGPC from 1991 to 1993. In 1996, he was elected to the Parliament from Bhatinda on the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ticket. He served as a member of SC/ST panel during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. ENS