Congress gets Punjab comfort, why AAP was left a distant second

The SAD-BJP combine, following two successive terms at the helm, was reduced to third place this time with 15 seats.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev , Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi/chandigarh | Published: March 12, 2017 5:16 am
Punjab election results 2017, Punjab poll results, Punjab, Amarinder singh, Punjab chief minister, Punjab assembly elections 2017, Congress, congress punjab, Punjab congress, punjab congress wins, BJP, SAD, BJP-SAD alliance, sidhu, navjot singh sidhu, punjab seats, punjab news, aap, india news, indian express news Amarinder with Congress Punjab in-charge Asha Kumari in Chandigarh. (Source: Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

Captain Amarinder Singh is all set to be the Chief Minister of Punjab — for the second time in his political career — after the Congress recorded an impressive victory in the state by wresting 77 of the 117 seats in the assembly election result announced Saturday. The SAD-BJP combine, following two successive terms at the helm, was reduced to third place this time with 15 seats.

But with just 20 seats and a vote share of about 24 per cent, the party that seems to have got its poll calculations all wrong in the state is the other main contender, AAP, which ended a distant second.

As Amarinder thanked voters for giving him the “biggest birthday gift” — he turned 75 Saturday — the only consolation for AAP was that it will get to play the role of the main opposition.

While opinion will remain divided on the main reason behind the AAP’s poor performance — it could not even reach the one-fifth mark in the 117-member house — here is why the party may have, for the moment at least, ruled themselves out of a bigger national role in the run-up to 2019:

LACK OF A CM FACE: While the Congress had a strong chief ministerial candidate in Amarinder and the SAD-BJP alliance banked on the tested leadership of Parkash Singh Badal, the AAP refused to project a name. The Congress and SAD-BJP played upon the fears of Panthic Sikh voters by claiming that AAP would bring an outsider if it won — Arvind Kejriwal or even Sanjay Singh, who played a key role in the campaign but belongs to UP. By the time, Kejriwal clarified in the middle of the campaign that he would not shift to Punjab, it was too late.

FOCUS ON MALWA: With 69 seats at stake in Malwa, AAP took a huge gamble by channelising most of its resources and energy in the state’s biggest region. Its campaign in the other two regions – Doaba and Majha — remained a non-starter, except for the high-decibel campaign in Majitha, the home turf of SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia, whom the AAP accuses of being behind the illegal drug trade. The party had hoped that its Majitha campaign would have a ripple effect in the Majha region, with 25 constituencies. And that support from NRIs, mostly from the Doaba region (23 seats), would help it form the next government. But AAP got only 18 seats from Malwa, two from Doaba and none from Majha.

CANDIDATE SELECTION: Most AAP candidates were freshers with no previous voter connect. By the time their names were announced and the campaign picked up, there was little time left to establish their base. The party’s strategy of projecting Kejriwal as the face while keeping its candidates in the background did not work. It didn’t help that there were allegations of sale of tickets, too.

INFIGHTING, CHHOTEPUR EXIT: Last August, AAP decided to throw out Sucha Singh Chhotepur, the man responsible for building the party in the state, on what many said were trumped up charges. But it only reinforced the rivals’ allegation that Kejriwal would not let any other leader in the party become popular. Even though Chhotepur got only 1,740 votes in the Gurdaspur constituency, contesting on his Aapna Punjab Party symbol, his ouster along with some of his followers added to the anti-AAP sentiment among voters. Besides, two of the four AAP MPs who won from Punjab in 2014 were suspended over minor differences with the leadership.

OVER-CONFIDENCE: The AAP may have miscalculated its support based on the huge crowds that came to listen to Kejriwal and comedian-turned-MP Bhagwant Mann at their rallies. Mann lost by 18,500 votes to Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. There was also the general perception that the AAP campaign had peaked in the middle of last year and that it was destined to go downhill once other parties pitched their poll tents.

SAD RETAINED CORE VOTERS: AAP projected a severe erosion in the core votebank of the SAD and hoped that a majority of that would come its way. But despite the defeat, SAD held on to its core, netting 25.2 per cent votes, which was more than that of AAP (23.7 per cent). As for the anti-incumbency and floating vote factors, the results show that most of these went to the Congress.

WHAT NEXT: Despite its underwhelming performance, AAP has emerged as a potent force in Punjab and will have ample space to show its worth as the main opposition. With Amarinder likely to be saddled with empty coffers and huge loans, AAP will get plenty of opportunity to raise issues related to farmers and other marginalised sections of voters, thereby gaining the respect of the populace. What would also come as consolation for AAP are the wins recorded by its other leaders H S Phoolka, Kanwar Sandhu and Sukhpal Khaira from Dakha, Kharar and Bholath, respectively.

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