It’s over, after all. Yes, I am talking about the Punjab assembly elections. And, no, I will not tell you that I told you so. Only a lucky duck or a fortune-telling parrot could have predicted 77 seats for the Congress in the 117-member House. But the results do leave us with reinforced lessons and new realities. They also raise some questions.
Does bluster not work?
Remember 2012? When the Congress lost its second consecutive election, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a lot of the blame was put on the aggressive style of campaigning adopted by Congress leader Capt Amarinder Singh. His threat to hang Bikram Singh Majithia upside down, or dismissing SAD chief Sukhbir Badal as a small fry were blamed widely for the defeat. This time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) adopted that style. It got it the cheers, but the votes went to someone who seemed calmer. That’s quite a theory in a state known for bluster and brashness. It appears the pop Punjabi culture does not clearly represent its people.
Do the young vote for the young?
Amarinder turned a ripe 75 on the result day. Over 50% of Punjab’s electorate is below 40. Do the two things have to have a connection? Here’s the thing. His appeal to the young was that of a guy who could get things done. AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, appeared to be bickering so much — not just in Punjab but at the national level with Prime Minister Narendra Modi — that it came across as empty rhetoric, a hallmark of traditional politicians, or as amateurish foot-stomping, which does not inspire confidence. In any case, how long can you make even the young voter believe that you’re going to jail four outgoing ministers the day you come to power? The young are surely excitable, but not necessarily gullible. And no, the promise of free smartphones has not decided the election.
What scares Punjab?
The communalism of the election was no secret. But it was a complex variety of communalism. The AAP was first dismissed as a party of outsider ‘topiwallahs’ (cap-wearers), a not-so-veiled reference to Hindus, as against the turban-wearing Sikhs. Then, it turned out to be the darling of Sikh radicals. The SAD started out with seeking votes for the Sikh Panth, and then turned to a dera that is hated by hardcore Sikhs. By the end, the Congress seemed relatively distant or at least more refined. And the state clearly does not want to risk returning to the dark days of militancy. AAP’s open flirtations with the Sikh radical fringe did please some political pundits, who saw in it the good tidings of politics becoming more argumentative but inclusive. But political science and politics do not follow the same syllabus.
Who gets the credit?
No, we are not talking about which poll-management firm helped which party. Or which party had more Twitter trends. This is clearly the voter’s election. Much love for AAP did not mean blind following. And a verdict to the Congress is more about pragmatism than any one person’s charisma. That the Akali-BJP combine was going to lose was foregone, so let’s not waste word length on that.
Drugs will not go away in four weeks. Farm debt is not a nightmare that vanishes when you wake up to a new day. The SYL canal is an unavoidable constitutional crisis. And there may be caveats added to even the smartphone promise. I’m sure the voter knows that. For now, the agenda was to defeat brazenness of two types. One, that makes you feel that it’s fine to be shameless as long as you declare all your assets in the poll affidavit. The other makes you feel that you can ride the Right and hang by the Left, at the same time, and no one will notice. People notice everything, and they act when it gets too much.