It was Malwa that set the tone for change in Punjab. The ground zero of surge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the state in the 2014 Lok sabha polls, Malwa was AAP’s best bet to claim Punjab.
Out of 34 assembly segments that it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 32 were in Malwa alone and the remaining two in Doaba. But the politically volatile belt turned out to the political nemesis of both the AAP as well as the SAD-BJP alliance this time.
Of the total 69 seats, the Congress has bagged 40 leaving just eight for the SAD, one for the BJP, 18 for the AAP and two for its ally, the Lok Insaaf Party of the Bains brothers. Which means out of the 32 seats it won in Malwa in 2014 polls, the AAP could win just 20 and went down by 12 seats.
The Malwa downfall would puzzle the party as it assesses its loss. The epicentre of Sikh anger over sacrilege incidents of Guru Granth Sahib and the power centre of the Badal family the AAP had gained maximum traction in Malwa mainly among youth voters and NRIs besides the extreme left (read naxals) and the extreme right (Sikh radicals).
It had fueled anti-incumbency sentiments of people angry over high-handedness of Akali halqa in-charges and sarpanchs and Badal buses rising roughshod on state highways. But AAP’s political fortunes, that had peaked a little too early before polls, floundered as rapidly. The propaganda of its political rivals that it was piggybacking on radicals gained ground in the crucial final leg first owing to cardinal mistake of AAP chief Arvimd Kejriwal of staying at the residence of a former Khalistani commando and later the Maur blast.
Coming one after the other, the two incidents were enough to scare Hindus and raise the hackles of moderate Sikhs. Then came the dera dice rolled by SAD president Sukhbir Badal. It cut both ways. It dented the dera vote of AAP and the Sikh vote of the Akalis. And the two together titled the scales in favour of the Congress.
The announcement of Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh as the party’s CM face may not have mattered but the peasantry seems to have not forgotten his unilateral act of ending the river waters agreement as CM, introduction of BT Cotton and smooth procurement of foodgrains. To add to this, he even promised farmers a debt waiver and youth 50 lakh smart phones and jobs. In Ludhiana, the industrial hub of the state with 14 seats, the note ban also worked against the SAD-BJP. The high-decibel campaign of AAP star campaigner Bhagwant Mann on the ground and the AAP war room on social media failed to translate to votes. The vocal AAP voter was outnumbered by the silent voter that went the Congress way.