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Kejriwal tweets Punjab, Goa will make history: What the state polls mean for AAP

It’s an acid test for the Aam Admi Party’s national ambition as Punjab and Goa began polling on Saturday in the first phase of the poll process across five states. Despite a tough fight on his hands, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal sounded confident of sweeping to power in these two states.

assembly elections Updated: Feb 06, 2017 08:53 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Assembly polls,Punjab,Goa
Aam Aadmi Party national convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal at a rally ahead of Punjab assembly election at Shahkot in Jalandhar on Wednesday. (PTI)

The electoral results of 157 assembly constituencies in Punjab and Goa will decide the political fortunes of two prominent opposition forces – the grand old party, the Congress and the aggressive newcomer Aam Aadmi Party.

But AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal is confident of his party sweeping to power in Goa and Punjab where polling began Saturday morning.

“Goa and Punjab will create history today,” Kejriwal tweeted shortly after polling began.

The national ambition of the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal rests on the outcome the elections in Punjab and Goa in the first phase of a five-state election process that will end with the results on March 11. And these two are the only states where the AAP is seen as a serious contender.

A rejection by the voters here will be a severe setback to the political startup which nurtures an expansion plan beyond the half-state of Delhi. A win in either state will also give AAP access to powers that a state government enjoys, including control over the state police for maintaining law and order – something that AAP has been fighting for in Delhi. It will also make AAP the only other party apart from the BJP and the Congress to rule more than one state.

The party finished with an impressive tally of four out of 13 seats in Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, even as it drew a blank in the rest of the country.

The AAP’s advent in Punjab’s political scene in 2014 also ended the bipolarity of the state’s politics which was shuffling between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine that has now ruled for 10 years.

Months ago, around September 2016, the AAP’s political affairs committee took the decision to focus on Punjab and Goa among the five states. It has also been focusing on capturing the political space ceded by the Congress.

A good show will mean the AAP’s expansion out of Delhi, where it won 67 out of 70 seats in February 2015. A failure could dent the party’s hopes including its chances in the Gujarat polls later this year, where it will fight the ruling BJP and the challenger Congress.

“Our aim is not to become a national party but that elections are fought on the issue of anti-corruption, education and health,” Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who campaigned in Punjab and Goa to pitch the Delhi model of governance, told HT on the eve of polling.

“We will take this agenda to other states after Punjab and Goa where we are going to form the government.”

In Punjab, the AAP is up against a resurgent Congress led by former chief minister Amarinder Singh and the well-oiled election machinery of the SAD-BJP. However, many polls have shown the Congress, and not AAP, in the lead. The Punjab election will provide the necessary impetus to the winner and decide who will be the main challenger to the BJP. For the Congress, a win in Punjab will give out the message that its slide has been arrested and the time for revival has come, well ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, five years after it was reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress now rules in seven states -- Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry. Since December 2013, it has lost Rajasthan, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana), Maharashtra, Haryana, Kerala, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the last due to defections, besides Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir as an alliance partner. In UP, the Congress is a junior alliance partner of the Samajwadi Party but a win in Punjab would be on its own steam.

In Goa, the AAP is fighting the BJP which hopes to return to power based on a split of the opposition vote. The Congress is in coalition with the Goa Forward and the United Goa Party. A fourth coalition of an RSS-splinter group, Shiv Sena and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party has thrown up an unpredictable set of possibilities.

First Published: Feb 04, 2017 10:37 IST