Congress’ chief ministerial face Capt Amarinder Singh could not have asked for a better gift on his 75th birthday.
The Congress returned to power in Punjab on Saturday with a thumping triumph, emphatically brushing aside the challenge posed by the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the first-ever three-horse race in the border state. The party is short of a two-third majority by only one seat.
While the AAP has emerged as the runners-up, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine, which ruled the state for 10 years, has been routed. The spectacular success of the Congress, which has stemmed the tide of poll reversals it has been facing, is not just the first good news for the party since 2013. It has also provided a face-saver to the Congress leadership that has failed to slow down, if not halt, the Narendra Modi juggernaut in the high-stakes battle in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress notched 77 of the 117 seats, up from 46 in the 2012 assembly elections. This is the party’s second best-ever performance in the state. Its highest tall was 87 seats in 1992 in an election boycotted by the Akalis.
Though its vote share slipped to 38.5% from 40% in the previous assembly elections, the Congress has won more seats this time in the three-horse race, tapping into the vein of widespread anger against the SAD-BJP combine. It has done well in all three regions – Malwa, Majha and Doaba – of the state.
Amarinder, who is all set to be the next chief minister, fought from two seats. He won Patiala, but lost to Parkash Singh Badal in Lambi.
The AAP bagged 20 seats with 24% vote share with its alliance partner, Lok Insaaf Party, taking another two seats with 1.2% votes.
The hype surrounding the AAP – the new entrant that changed the bipolar polity of Punjab – fizzled out. The party had taken the state politics by storm in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning four seats, but then lost the momentum.
But it is the Akalis who have suffered their most humiliating defeat. The SAD-BJP combine managed just 18 assembly seats with 30% votes – their worst-ever performance in the state.
While the SAD won 15 seats, the BJP got three. Both chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy CM son Sukhbir Badal retained their seats. However, more than half of their ministers lost.