Saturday is not just another voting day, one that will seal the fate of electoral contests in 157 legislative assembly seats in Punjab and Goa. It will also decide on the ambition of the Aam Aadmi Party and its chief Arvind Kejriwal to become a national force.
Punjab and Goa go to the polls in the first phase of a five-state election process that will end with the results on March 11. And these two are the only states where AAP is seen as a serious contender.
The party finished with an impressive tally of four out of 13 seats in Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, even as it drew a naught in the rest of the country.
AAP’s advent on Punjab’s political scene in 2014 also ended the bipolarity of the state’s politics which was shuffling between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine that has now ruled for 10 years.
Months ago, around September 2016, the party’s political affairs committee took the decision to focus on Punjab and Goa among the five states.
A good show will mean AAP’s expansion out of Delhi, where it won 67 out of 70 seats in February 2015. A failure could dent the party’s hopes including its chances in the Gujarat polls later this year, where it will fight the ruling BJP and the challenger Congress.
The Punjab election will provide the necessary impetus to the winner and decide who will be the main challenger to the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf.
“Our aim is not to become a national party but that elections are fought on the issue of anti-corruption, education and health,” Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who campaigned in both states to pitch the Delhi model of governance, told HT on Friday.
“We will take this agenda to other states after Punjab and Goa where we are going to form the government.”
AAP in Punjab is up against a resurgent Congress led by former chief minister Amarinder Singh and the well-oiled election machinery of the SAD-BJP. However, many polls have shown the Congress, and not AAP, in the lead.
A victory in Punjab will give a much-needed boost to the Congress which now rules in seven states -- Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry.
Since December 2013, it has lost Rajasthan, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana), Maharashtra, Haryana, Kerala, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the last due to defections, besides Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir as an alliance partner. In UP, the Congress is a junior alliance partner of the Samajwadi Party but a win in Punjab would be its solo.
The party suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and is desperately seeking revival of its political fortunes in the ongoing elections.
On the eve of polling, the party is sounding upbeat. “The Congress is forming the government in Punjab. But to bring real change and smiles back on faces of people of Punjab let’s aim for two-thirds majority,” Amarinder said.
In Goa, AAP is fighting a BJP hoping to return to power based on a split of the opposition vote. The Congress is in coalition with the Goa Forward and the United Goa Party. A fourth coalition of an RSS-splinter group, Shiv Sena and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party has thrown up an unpredictable set of possibilities.