Punjab result: what worked for Congress, and what went against AAP
The Congress has managed to romp home with ease in Punjab. State chief Captain Amarinder Singh turned 75 on Saturday, 11 March, and, quite literally, had his cake and ate it too.
The party was expected to emerge as the single largest party in these polls, if not the clear winner, but it proved the pollsters wrong by getting far more seats than predicted.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine has expectedly emerged third, but has done a shade better than what was being projected in the exit polls.
But the biggest surprise have been the results for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has been reduced to a distant second position on the electoral podium.
What worked for the Congress
The Congress has not only emerged as the main political force in Punjab, but has provided much-needed relief to its central leadership in Delhi. The party crossing the 70-seat mark has come as a surprise to its own cadres, who had set the upper limit at 66 seats.
So, what went right for the Congress?
1. Strong leadership
Amarinder's vast political experience and sharp acumen came in handy. He demonstrated what taking an aggressive stance in politics can yield in terms of electoral results.
2. United front
This time, the rebellion in the ranks was comparatively mild, and was well taken care of by the Congress leadership, as well as strategist Prashant Kishor's IPAC team.
3. Minimal interference from New Delhi
The Congress high command has proved to be a bane for the Congress in the past. The hands-off approach employed this time, allowing the state leadership, which is closest to the ground, to call the shots. This paid rich dividends.
If one looks at the pattern of the seats won by the Congress across the three regions of Punjab, it's as follows: Malwa 37/69 seats, Doaba 16/23 seats and Majha 22/25 seats.
The Congress has exceeded expectations in Malwa, while it has virtually swept the Dalit stronghold of Doaba and the border region of Majha.
What helped the Congress in Malwa was the SAD-BJP combine's better-than-expected performance. An AAP victory was only possible if there was a complete transfer of anti-incumbency votes from SAD-BJP, and in the absence of that, the Congress gained.
AAP left looking for solace
AAP proved to be the biggest disappointment of these elections, and could not even maintain its hold over the Assembly constituencies in the four Lok Sabha seats that it had won in 2014, signalling its arrival in Punjab.
The AAP leadership had been claiming all along that many top guns would fall silent on 11 March. Little did it realise that its own top guns would fail to fire.
Its most prominent face in Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, who was being described as the phenomenon of these polls for his crowd-pulling capabilities, lost miserably to outgoing Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in the latter's pocket borough of Lambi constituency.
Similarly, AAP's MLA from Rajouri Garden, Delhi, Jarnail Singh, who had been fielded against SAD president Sukhbir Badal in Jalalabad, provided no challenge in this Akali stronghold.
Even in Majitha, where AAP had fielded another top gun, Himmat Singh Shergil, the result was dismal for the party, as its all-out campaign against Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia on the issue of drugs eventually came to naught.
The only solace AAP can draw is that it has carved out a significant space on the political map of Punjab, and will be the main Opposition party in the state. However, in the future, it will have to redraw its strategy, because its high-pitched campaign against the 'establishment' and the 'Akali-Congress ruling elite' has failed to bring it to power.
What helped the Akalis
There were some factors that came into play very late to help the SAD-BJP combine come out with a decent performance, in comparison to the whitewash that was being predicted for them. Several exit polls had said that this alliance would not cross the single digit mark, while some had predicted less than 20 seats for them.
One of the factors that helped the combine win some of the seats, particularly in Malwa and Doaba, was the support announced for them by Dera Sacha Sauda.
There was also the quiet support coming from the followers of Dera Radha Soami at Beas, which has a pan-Punjab presence.
The top Akali leaders were always expected to win their seats, because irrespective of the party performance elsewhere, they had nurtured their constituencies well. Leaders like Parkash Singh Badal have a committed following in their respective constituencies, and they have never disappointed their voters in terms of providing them the facilities required.
The Akalis had gone into the battle on the plank of development, mainly in infrastructure, and it was their strongholds that had the largest share of this development pie.
The BJP (non-)factor
While the issue of demonetisation did not play out against the BJP in other states, it, along with the issue of desecration of holy books, proved to be a silent killer in Punjab.
The most aggrieved parties on both these issues were the farmers and the small traders, whose vote shifted towards the Congress in a big way.
The road ahead
Despite their overwhelming victory, the road ahead is not going to be an easy one for Amarinder and his MLAs. For Amarinder, this victory comes at a time when he had announced that this was his last political battle. He will have to ensure that the Congress government delivers on the tall promises made during the campaign.
Be it the issue of ending the drug menace, providing relief to farmers reeling under farm distress or reviving industry to help the youth get jobs, there are enough issues that needs to be addressed right from the word go. In fact, Amarinder's promise of a job for every household was the flagship campaign of the party.