Congress has won the border state of Punjab quite easily and credit for it goes to Captain Amarinder Singh. It was Amarinder, who strategised the election campaign couple of months ago. He resigned from the Lok Sabha seat in November 2016 to protest against the Supreme Court judgement on Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. At the same time, he announced that he will work for the development of the state and welfare of the people. He made an emotional appeal and it touched the people of Punjab.
The election was not easy for him. From the first day, the fight was primarily between Congress and AAP. The ruling SAD-BJP combine was nowhere in the picture. The people of Punjab were fed up of misrule and mis-governance of SAD-BJP alliance headed by Prakash Singh Badal. They were in power for last two terms. The state has been affected by drugs in a big way. Consumption of opium among youth has alarmed the people. Initially, it was AAP who raised the issue of drugs. AAP alleged links between drug smugglers and Bikram Majithia, revenue minister of Punjab. AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal pledged to arrest Majithia, if they come to power. AAP leaders had accused Majithia of patronising drug trade in Punjab.
Punjab Congress President Capt Amrinder Singh being greeted by party workers after the party’s victory in Assembly polls in Patiala on Saturday.
Till the beginning of the year, it was believed that AAP will form the government in Goa after elections. AAP had made significant inroads in Punjab. In Lok Sabha elections held in 2014, they won four seats. AAP’s presence became visible outside Delhi. They could attract youth in a massive way. The youth of Punjab were fed up of SAD-BJP and Congress politics; they were in search of an option. AAP provided them an alternate. AAP was seen as an alternate to the established political parties. It raised the hope of the people. Unfortunately, AAP leadership could not rise to the expectations of the people. The infighting shattered the peoples’ hope. In last August, AAP’s central leadership removed Sucha Singh Chhotepur on baseless charges. He was responsible for making the party a force to reckon with in Punjab. A message went out that AAP is not different from other established political parties.
Punjab is generally divided in three regions. They are Malwa, Majha and Doaba. Malwa belt consists of Bhatinda, Ferozpur, Moga, Sangroor, etc. It is also known as Cancer belt of Punjab. It has maximum number of assembly seats. Out of 117, Malwa region has 69 seats. AAP has a mass base in the region. They were expecting more than 40 seats from Malwa but, they got only 18. Unexpectedly, Akali Dal did not fare badly. Majha is made up of Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur. Out of 25 seats from the Majha region, AAP could not win even a single seat. In Doaba they got two seats out of 23.
AAP also made a mistake by not projecting someone as their CM candidate. It also led to confusion. There was also a fear that an outsider like Kejriwal can become CM, if they win elections. Kejriwal had to make a clarification saying that no outsider will become CM of Punjab.
On the other side, Captain Amarinder Singh’s campaign was more organised. He himself contested from two constituencies. He lost to veteran Akali leader and outgoing CM Prakash Singh Badal from Lambi. BJP had no major role to play. They were junior partners of Akali Dal. Prime Minister Modi did address couple of meetings but had hardly made any impact.
With 20 seats, AAP has emerged as a major force. If they continue to perform their duties in an effective way, they can emerge as a major alternate force. Congress has won 77 seats.
Congress got an added advantage when former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the party. After resigning from BJP, he was to join AAP but it could not materialise. Sidhu is a popular figure. India being a cricket crazy nation, Sidhu attracts and mesmerises people. BJP and AAP’s loss automatically benefited Congress. Sidhu’s wife was earlier BJP legislator. She resigned from BJP after Sidhu resigned from the Rajya Sabha. Sidhu’s popularity helped Congress in getting more votes.
It will not be smooth for Captain as AAP will be active in the opposition. Tackling drug menace will be a major task before Congress government. As the state of Punjab is industrially developed, Captain has to make the state investment friendly. Attracting global investment will also be a major task before the Captain.
Congress has also won Amritsar’s Lok Sabha seat. It fell vacant following the resignation of Captain. In 2014, Captain had defeated Jaitley from Amritsar.
- The author is a senior journalist and peace activist based in Mumbai and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org