If the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine lost currency in the Punjab polls, they have the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to blame.
The party whipped up strong anti-incumbency sentiments in Punjab against the ruling Badal family, attacking their business empire, naming and shaming its ministers for links with the so-called narcotics mafia, and promising nothing less than a revolution in the state.
Unfortunately for AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, it was the Congress that encashed it all to romp home a winner. The Congress was able to beat the AAP in the perception game.
In the final lap, it won over Hindus and moderate Sikhs to its side by hammering the AAP for “pro-radical” links. It fielded its popular leaders such as party chief Captain Amarinder Singh and Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu against the father-son Badal duo in Lambi and Jalalabad to counter the AAP’s propaganda that the Congress was in cahoots with the Akalis.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, won their seats but lost face after the alliance suffered a near-rout in the state.
Kejriwal kept the suspense on the party’s choice for the chief minister’s post on and fielded his top guns in tough battles to claim the throne.
For its part, the Congress left no ambiguity. The announcement of Amarinder as the party’s nominee for the top job came late but helped defeat rival propaganda that cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu was in the reckoning.
The Congress victory was scripted by party strategist Prashant Kishor. He repackaged “Brand Captain” by building his entire campaign around him, and played the deal-maker to ensure the entry of Sidhu into the party.
His campaigns ensured Amarinder shed the royalty tag and hit the road meeting leaders, workers and voters. It helped Kishor’s team, I-PAC, create a huge database of dole-happy voters who registered for smart phones, debt waivers and jobs.
By going uninvited to Sidhu’s home and roping in Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, to woo him, Kishor gave the party’s prospects a booster dose in the final lap.
Even Amarinder admits that the youth identifies with Sidhu and he would be only too willing to pass the baton on to him after signing off on a winning note as chief minister.
The Congress won back its traditional vote bank of Dalits and Hindus. It has bagged 20 out of 34 reserved seats in the state, up from 10 in the 2012 polls.
Some ticket tangles by Amarinder were self-inflicted, but his “one family, one ticket” rule worked to the party’s favour. It ensured more young faces without political backgrounds were in the fray and tickets were not cornered solely by relatives and loyalists of state leaders.
The Congress outwitted its rivals when it came to competitive populism. It promised voters the moon —smart phones with free data to the youth, one job for each family, and debt waiver to farmers.
As the CM-in-waiting, Amarinder also played the emotive card. He called 2017 his last election and voters did not disappoint him.
The Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda announced its support to the ruling alliance, which cut both ways — the AAP lost a large chunk of voters associated with the sect, and the Akalis lost Sikhs angry at the dera.
Both ways, it was advantage Congress. In Dalit-dominated Doaba belt, the dera Ballan seems to have gone the Congress way.
The Congress can thank the ruling Akali-BJP alliance for its victory. The signal to the Akali-BJP leaders and voters was clear on the day of polling — stop the AAP, even if it means adding votes to the Congress kitty!