The stunning verdict of Punjab voters in favour of the Congress is a historic rebuke to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and a humiliating end of 10-year rule of the SAD-BJP combine in the state.
This hammering of the Akalis at the hustings — with 15 seats in its kitty, down from 56 in 2012 — is significant as this is for the first time the party suffered the debacle of this size and scale.
The assembly poll results have left the SAD in tatters. Frontline leaders were decimated along with eight ministers. And, its chief, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had to scrap hard in Jalalabad to win. Clearly, the verdict amounts to a repudiation of SAD patriarch and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and voters rejecting his development agenda.
In its Malwa bastion, SAD won only eight of the 69 seats and in Majha, it managed to win only Majitha and Batala seats. In the Dalit-dominated Doaba, the party won five seats. Party’s Lehra candidate and former finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa won with the highest margin of 26,815 votes among the Akali nominees.
Panthic anger, sulking cadre, corrupt coterie that surrounded the Akali leadership alienated the foot soldiers and did the party in. Further, reliance on dera support, doles and the Dalits boomeranged. The open support of deras, especially Sirsabased Dera Sacha Sauda, failed to sail the SAD ship to victory. Sukhbir’s much-touted ‘halqa in-charge’ system to rehabilitate the defeated party men fuelled anti-Akali anger as they became synonymous with ‘cash-and-carry’ tactics and high-handedness.
Also, Sukhbir’s strategy to duck the anti-incumbency ire fell flat. The seats of nine sitting MLAs were changed and 15 MLAs were dropped, while 23 fresh candidates were fielded, besides six turncoats.
Finally, “Panth” hammered the last nail in the coffin. When in political hot waters, Akalis’ war cry used to be “Panth in peril”. It was for the first time that “Panth” derailed Sukhbir’s plan to score a hat-trick at the hustings and dented and damaged the Akalis beyond repair.
At the core of the “Panthic” anger was non-resolution of sacrilege issue that snowballed into anti-Akali surge. The sulking cadre did not stand to defend the party and deserted the trenches.
The coterie of shady and non-taksali leaders, plus mediocre bureaucrats surrounded Sukhbir.
This led to complete disconnect with the time-tested foot soldiers. They concluded that brokers and middleman have taken over and the party jathedars found themselves unheard at the highest level. This is the single largest reason behind erosion of vote bank and route of the Akali Dal.