Defying the 'Modi wave', Punjab emerged as the saving grace for Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha verdict on Friday. With four of the state's 13 seats and over 24% vote share, it is the best performance ever by any non-Congress and non-SAD-BJP entity in Punjab, firmly establishing the AAP as a formidable third force in the historically bipolar politics of the border state.
The rookie party, whose candidates were relative greenhorns to Punjab's brutal power politics, cut both ways. It came as a bolt from the blue for the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine as well as for the opposition, Congress. The AAP's impact was further underlined by the fact that the highest victory margin in the state was secured by its Sangrur candidate, satirist-politician Bhagwant Mann, who got around 5.4 lakh votes and won by over 2 lakh votes.
Though together with ally BJP, which contested three seats, the SAD secured 35% vote share, the AAP was just below SAD's individual 26%. In the seat tally, the AAP was on a par with the SAD - four each. As for the Congress, despite 33% vote share, it was pushed to the third slot and a tally of just three. Besides bagging four seats, the AAP stood second in Ludhiana and third in eight constituencies; at only two places did it get less than 1 lakh votes. The party thus ate into the anti-incumbency votes that would have gone to the Congress and also into the panthic agenda and rural votes of the Akali Dal, besides the urban votes of the BJP.
With no cadres or big political names, Kejriwal's party relied on volunteers and fielded rank newcomers on a majority of seats, choosing from among celebrities, doctors, lawyers, professors, and even radical Sikhs. Its winners
Of these, Mann dented a Congress stronghold by pushing sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla to the third slot in Sangrur. In another Congress bastion, Patiala, AAP candidate Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, a popular heart surgeon, humbled union minister and three-time MP Preneet Kaur. It did not matter in the erstwhile royals' backyard that Preneet's husband, former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, trumped BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley in Amritsar.
The AAP's bid to woo Sikh voters by setting up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 during its short stint in power in Delhi helped it make inroads into SAD territory. Its radical Sikh candidate Harinder Singh Khalsa defeated Congress MLA Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and SAD's moneybag realtor Kulwant Singh in Fathegarh Sahib. HS Phoolka, a Supreme Court lawyer who has been fighting cases of riot-hit Sikh families, swept the rural areas of Ludhiana, though Ravneet Singh Bittu of the Congress won the four-cornered contest.
Four Congress stalwarts were swept away by the AAP's 'broom', as it pocketed over a lakh votes against Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa (Gurdaspur), leader of opposition in the assembly Sunil Jakhar (Ferozepur), former union minister Ambika Soni (Anandpur Sahib), and Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Mohinder Singh Kaypee (Hoshiarpur). On the other hand, in Jalandhar, AAP's virtually unknown candidate Jyoti Mann got over 2 lakh votes, which apparently contributed to the SAD's Pawan Kumar Tinu losing to Congress' Chaudhary Santokh Singh.
But the worst casualty of the AAP phenomenon in Punjab was witnessed in the Badal bastion of Bathinda, where CM Parkash Singh Badal's estranged nephew, Manpreet Badal, lost owing to the AAP candidate, singer Jasraj Singh Longia who is better known as Jassi Jasraj. The CM's daughter-in-law, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, barely managed to retain the seat by over 19,000 votes as Longia sliced away 87,000 votes, enough to tilt the scales in favour of the ruling family bahu.