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Why AAP proved to be an over-hyped phenomenon in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 March 2017, 18:55 IST
(Photo by Pardeep Pandit/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has eventually proved to be an over-hyped phenomenon in Punjab. The state has once again shown faith in a traditional political force like the Congress while rejecting a chance to experiment with a new force. But it has come as a surprise that APP, the party that was threatening to walk away with the victory crown, has come a distant second with there being a very little difference between them and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)–BJP combine in terms of the seats won.

“It proved to be a gas balloon. Perhaps they were too over confident like the Congress last time. It is time they got down to analysing what went wrong and where,” pointed out a Congress worker from Patiala.

There were several factors at play that have resulted in such a dismal performance by AAP. To begin with, the first major flaw with the AAP strategy was:

The over-dependence on the Malwa region

A look at the map of the constituencies clearly shows that more than 95% seats that the AAP candidates have won are in the Malwa region that sends 69 of the total 117 MLAs to the state Assembly. But then AAP was expected to sweep Malwa which it did not.

It probably failed to take into account the fact that while it had been able to make strong inroads into the region, both the Congress as well as the Akalis too have their traditional strongholds there.

The region also has the home turfs of outgoing Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his deputy Sukhbir Badal and also the Congress President Captain Amarinder Singh. And these are not leaders whose influence just ends at the boundary of their constituency or district. They can easily impact the outcome of the polls in at least their adjoining areas.

Failure at breaching strongholds

The AAP leadership also failed to take into account that the traditional strongholds of these parties are very difficult to breach.

“True that the masses were turning out in large number to listen to the speeches of AAP leader Bhagwant Mann but it was never sure that all this would translate into votes. Mann's identity as an entertainer is far greater than as a politician,” pointed out a resident of Sangrur.

The Dera Sacha Sauda card

But the factor that did maximum damage to the AAP prospects was the support given by Dera Sacha Sauda to the Akalis at the 11th hour. A large number of the Dera supporters are from the Dalit and marginalised sections of the society, particularly in the Malwa region, and they were expected to vote for AAP.

But with the Dera coming out to support the Akalis, a large number of votes simply moved away from the AAP kitty. AAP's victory chances were mainly dependent on how much of the Akali-BJP votes got transferred to them.

This was stemmed by the Dera supporters voting for the Akalis. Otherwise, some of the seats won by the Akalis should have been with AAP or many of the votes polled by the Akalis should have been cast in favour of AAP.

A large number of supporters of Dera Radha Soami at Beas also silently supporting the Akalis proved to be detrimental to AAP's chances since the Dera has a pan-Punjab influence.

The party also failed to get the support in the Dalit pockets mainly concentrated in the Doaba region of the state that has 23 seats. Sukhpal Khaira is the only AAP candidate that has won from the region.

AAP had gone to the extent of announcing a deputy chief minister from the Dalits and its national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had also made several trips to the region. The plane-loads of NRIs who had also come to support AAP failed to get enough votes for their candidates.

The party was a total failure in the Majha region where it failed to open an account despite its state convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich aka Ghuggi contesting from the region.

Hardline and fail

A major factor that played a role in AAP's defeat is the success of the Congress and the Akalis in sending across the message that AAP was supported by Sikh hardliners and its victory would result in a return of the dark days of militancy in the state.

“The people got scared particularly after the blast at Maur Mandi just a few days ahead of the polls. The reports of the hardliners sitting abroad supporting AAP did not go well with them,” said a political observer.

The two traditional parties also succeeded in presenting AAP as the party of outsiders in the state.

Observers also say that the arrogance with which the party sacked its former Punjab convenor Succha Singh Chhotepur also took its toll particularly in the Majha region where the performance of AAP has been pathetic.

Though Chhotepur's Aapna Punjab Party (APP) failed to open its account it did considerable damage to AAP prospects at several places.

No face, no votes

The failure of the party to declare a chief ministerial candidate was another factor that played out as a message to the electorate. A message that there would be a lot of infighting on the issue.

The AAP opponents also successfully played up the fact that in the event of an AAP victory, the state would have a chief minister from outside – probably in the form of Arvind Kejriwal.

AAP's self-inflicted dents too did considerable damage to its poll prospects. The failure of the party leadership to bring in cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu cost them dearly.

Even Congress' campaign managers had pointed that Sidhu's entry into AAP, just at the time he had resigned from Rajya Sabha followed by a flurry of rallies across the state, would have made all the difference.

The AAP leadership also failed to read the message coming from daily rebellions on the tickets being allocated right from the time when the first list was out.

Disconnect with the locals

Last but not the least, AAP's campaign was no doubt very high pitched but a minute inspection could easily expose the flaws. Many of the tools employed for the campaign appealed as good exercises at a superficial level, but failed to deliver.

For example, there were many volunteers right from places like Bengaluru and Mumbai carrying out marches in the heartland where they did not even understand the language of the locals.

“Then this whole business of NRIs sitting in their palatial homes in Doaba calling up their relatives and acquaintances asking them to vote for AAP candidates was never expected to work. The locals have their own equations and dynamics. The NRIs would go back after a few weeks while the locals would continue to live here,” said a media person from Doaba.

But nonetheless, AAP has made a mark in the Punjab politics and its leaders need to micro-analyse the factors that led to the poll debacle so that they can put their act together the next time.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 11 March 2017, 17:36 IST
 
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