The script must have been familiar to the Congress. On Tuesday, it lost the state to lack of governance and corruption — the two things it had accused the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party to win the elections in 2002.
In addition to these, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s famous inaccessibility, which many of his Cabinet members emulated, alienated many sections. Rising prices and unemployment completed the list.
But for the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, which issued an edict to its followers to vote for the Congress, the party could have suffered a rout. The dera votes seemed to have saved at least 16 seats in the five districts around Bathinda.
Heavy gains for BJP
The Congress also lost heavily for trying to hijack the agenda of the Akali Dal in rural areas at the cost of the urban areas. The BJP took advantage of this urban neglect, especially in Doaba to win an unprecedented 19 of the 23 seats it contested. In 2002, it had just three seats in the SAD-BJP combine tally of 44. The improved showing will no doubt make the party claim its fair share of governance now.
The disenchantment with the Congress was widespread. “Not only did the Sikh voters vote for the BJP, the Hindu voters also voted for the Akali Dal — unlike in the past,” said Chandigarh-based political analyst and statistician, Pritam Singh Kumedan.
Development plank failed
The “development plank” just did not work for the party. The SAD-BJP dented the Congress in all its bastions, particularly Doaba and Majha (Amritsar and Gurdaspur). Majha region had helped the Congress win 20 seats last time. The SAD-BJP won 23 seats here this time.
“Amarinder Singh’s attempt to win the Akali farmer vote bank through various policies (including termination of the water agreement with other states) made him vulnerable in his own strongholds, especially Doaba, where he ignored the dalits and traders. Moreover, Amarinder Singh government’s claim of “Punjab shining” too angered the Punjabi voter,” said Dr Pramod Kumar, Director of the Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communication.
Analysts also attribute the SAD-BJP win to the exploitation of electoral arithmetic by Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal. While the Congress weakened itself by alienating itself from allies like the CPI and CPM, Badal tied up with the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra’s faction, which had cost the SAD at least a dozen seats in 2002. He also won over most of his rebels. The Congress, on the other hand, had 29 rebels in the contest.
Akalis scored with campaigning
Observers say the SAD-BJP also scored with their campaigning. While the senior Badal influenced the elderly voters, his firebrand son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, worked tirelessly on the youth. Sukhbir’s aggressive campaign against the alleged corruption of some Congress ministers neutralised the Congress campaign of corruption against his own family (Badal), admitted former Deputy Speaker, Bir Devinder Singh. Singh claims he was denied a Congress ticket for raising his voice against corruption in the party.
Besides Navjot Singh Sidhu, the BJP brought in senior leaders like AB Vajpayee, Raj Nath Singh and Sushma Swaraj for the campaigning. When the Congress brought in UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Akalis got an advertisement in newspapers showing a desecrated Akal Takht to invoke memories of Operation Bluestar.
Interestingly, each party fared better in regions where the opponents were traditionally stronger — the Congress in Malwa and the Akali-BJP in Doaba.
Many also felt “development” worked as a double-edged weapon for the Congress. While some farmers benefited due to rise in land prices, mainly around cities (where industry was coming up), there was of resentment among farmers whose lands were acquired for big industrial houses, especially in Malwa and Majha, where they had been agitating for months.