New Delhi: Riding on the badlaav (change) narrative, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is set to form the government in Punjab after a landslide victory on 91 seats and leading on one seat.
The incumbent Congress could only win 18 seats with its stalwarts like Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, Pradesh Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal being rejected by the voters.
The electorate also expressed no confidence in Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which won only three seats, with former CM Prakash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal losing from Lambi and Jalalabad seats, respectively.
After 1966, when Punjab became a separate state, this is the first time that no member of the Badal family has been elected in the new Assembly.
Political scientists and experts are of the opinion that resentment against bad governance, corruption charges and no steps for employment generation by Congress and the Akalis in previous two decades is behind the AAP’s resounding victory.
Talking to NewsClick over phone, Amandeep Sandhu, author of the book, Panjab - Journeys Through Fault Lines, said the Assembly poll results spoke volumes about the frustration of the people who found themselves stuck between the two traditional parties -- Congress and SAD -- even when it was apparent that both had been shielding corrupt leaders.
“In my understanding, the mammoth mandate for AAP is a complete rejection of policies of Congress and Akali Dal. People were furious over politicisation of sacrilege cases across the state during the 10-year-long tenure of Akali Dal. They were angry with Congress because Captain Amarinder Singh did not work whereas tainted ministers were busy plundering resources,” he said.
Sandhu said it was a “watershed moment in the politics of Punjab where the face of Bhagwant Mann worked. It should be also looked from the perspective that many stalwarts stand decimated today, such as Amarinder Singh, Prakash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Charanjit Singh Channi. This mandate suggests that the people were particularly anguished over being taken for granted.”
Congress leaders Rana Gurjeet Singh and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot highlighted the charges of corruption in the previous regime of Amarinder Singh. Rana Gurjeet Singh was accused of a multi-crore mining scam and was forced to resign from the cabinet in 2018. Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, too, was accused of swindling Rs 64 crore in the post-matric scholarship scam in 2020. However, Singh returned to the new state cabinet in 2021 headed by Channi.
When asked about dalits abandoning the grand old party even when it projected its dalit face, Channi, as chief ministerial candidate, Sandhu said: “We must understand that Punjab does not vote like the rest of India on caste and religious lines. No arithmetic works here. He was a dalit face but people also looked if he worked or not.”
He added that “although AAP has garnered an unprecedented mandate, I believe that the party has no understanding of Punjab’s issues. Arvind Kejriwal campaigned vociferously in Delhi that stubble burning was polluting Delhi but remained silent on it in Punjab. Similarly, they kept saying it would not let any other state get Punjab’s water, whereas its counsel argued in the Supreme Court that Delhi must get a share of water from Punjab. They have been taking completely contradictory positions. This election shows that it will be a litmus test for AAP, as it rules both Punjab and Delhi.”
Dr Jatinder Singh, a political scientist at Punjabi University, Patiala, told NewsClick that there was a general consensus among people that they would take a chance with AAP this time, and the results clearly show that.
“We saw that AAP was leading in 65 seats out of a total 69 seats in the Malwa region alone. It is sufficient to form a government. Additionally, it is doing well in the Majha region. When we look at Congress, its stalwarts are losing. A few individuals like Pargat Singh, Hardev Singh Laddi have won but these victories are solely because of individual campaigns. In AAP, people saw the party symbol. However, it was singularly individuals who mattered in the case of Congress.”
When asked about Charanjit Singh Channi losing both seats, Singh said: “It is a drawback of politics in Punjab in a sense that he was elected once as an Independent candidate, then twice on a Congress ticket and still could not save his seat. It seems that the move of choosing dalit face did not convince upper caste Sikhs, Hindus as well as Other Backward Classes or OBCs. It is still to be seen how many dalit votes Channi got. He hails from a community which has never claimed the chief minister’s post. So, whether parties will choose a dalit face for such a seat seems unlikely in the near future. Hence, it’s back for politics in Punjab, where dalits share the largest vote share, but cannot clinch it politically.”
Jagrup Singh Sekhon, Professor of Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev University, said it seemed clear in post-poll survey analysis, conducted through Centre for Developing Societies or CSDS under him, that AAP succeeded in banking on the desire for change among the people.
“It was clear to us that Punjab voted for change and the farmers’ movement played an important role in it. People were questioning MLAs about their conduct and stand on policies publicly. This was a new phenomenon in Punjab. We are observing that Hindus too voted for AAP in big numbers compared with BJP. How far AAP faces the litmus test over issues needs to be seen. If it does not perform, it will go too. The people routed Badals and Captains. Kejriwal too will be shown the door. It’s not a big matter for Punjab.”