The landslide victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi has set off political tremors in Punjab, the only state where the rookie party managed a face-saver in last year's Lok Sabha polls by winning all its four seats.
Arvind Kejriwal’s party will be a real threat to all the three main political parties as it had cut both ways even in the 2014 parliamentary polls in Punjab, eating into the vote-share of not just the ruling SAD-BJP alliance but also the opposition Congress. The Delhi verdict is also a bearer of bad tidings for the fledgling People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) led by Manpreet Badal, the estranged nephew of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. His party has been contending for the third slot in the state’s hitherto bipolar politics.
Not surprisingly, the AAP on Tuesday announced its next mission as Punjab, which is slated to go to polls in 2017. Its state convener Sucha Singh Chottepur said Kejriwal would undertake a month-long tour of the border state in the coming months to bring an end to the “mafia rule”.
Like in Delhi, the AAP had found many takers in Punjab for its unique experiment of working through motivated volunteers in absence of a dedicated cadre, sourcing funds from the public and fielding rank newcomers from different fields. NRIs had rallied behind the party in large numbers, helping it win four seats out of 13, end up second in Ludhiana, and third in eight constituencies; at only two places did it get less than 1 lakh votes.
These are the reasons why the AAP would now force Punjab’s political parties to rework their strategies at a time the SAD-BJP alliance is on the downturn and the Congress is in the tatters by intense infighting between its past and present chiefs, Capt Amarinder Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa.
But it is the Congress which should be worrying more. After losing two consecutive state polls, it managed to win just three seats in the 2014 parliamentary polls as AAP made the most of the strong anti-incumbency. The Congress vote share fell drastically to 33.1%, down 12.13% since 2009 when it had won eight seats. As many as four Congress stalwarts were swept away by the AAP’s ‘broom’ as it pocketed over a lakh votes against Bajwa, leader of opposition in the assembly Sunil Jakhar, former Union minister Ambika Soni and former Punjab Congress chief Mohinder Singh Kaypee.
SAD-BJP in huddle
Though CM Parkash Singh Badal dismissed the verdict as a “Delhi phenomenon” which would have “no impact” on Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal leaders went into a huddle. Scoring a duck out of the four seats it contested in Delhi polls, three on its ally BJP’s symbol, the party has suffered a double whammy.
AAP handed it a humiliating defeat in Sikh-dominated seats by not only stealing its Panthic agenda — in his previous stint as CM Kejriwal had announced formation of a special investigation team (SIT) to reopen 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases — but also whipped up bad publicity for SAD by raking up drug menace and other issues of Punjab.
In terms of the seat tally in Lok Sabha polls, the AAP was on a par with the SAD — four each — and just a few notches below SAD's individual vote share of 26.3% at 24.5%. Other than Panthic votes, AAP had also sliced away rural votes of the Akali Dal.
Though the BJP’s stakes in Punjab are not as high as its ally, the Delhi verdict also dealt a heavy blow to the prospects of the saffron party, which was aiming to cash in on the “Modi wave” to seek a bigger share in seat-sharing or even part ways with the SAD, if things came to that. The AAP had also sliced away urban votes of the BJP in the LS polls.