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Chandigarh: After recording its worst tally in Punjab in 25 years, the Congress has its own failures to blame for its downfall. It won just 18 seats, down from 77 five years ago, and was routed in two of the state’s three regions.
In Malwa, Punjab’s biggest region, the Congress won just two of 69 seats – compared to 40 in the last election. It performed just as poorly in the state’s border belt of Majha (Amritsar region), where it could win not more than six of 25 seats, down from 22 in the 2017 elections.
The only saving grace for the party that helped it reach the double-digit mark was the Doaba (Jalandhar) region, where it registered wins in 10 out of 23 seats.
The defeat of the party’s state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and incumbent chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, besides eight cabinet ministers, only made matters worse.
While the majority of its state leadership is silent, a senior Congress leader, who wished not to be named, said such a poor performance was unexpected and hard to digest.
“It is now a challenge for the party to revive its fortunes, especially with the AAP’s dramatic rise,” he added
Political analyst Pramod Kumar told The Wire that politics in Punjab will not remain the same after the 2022 poll verdict. “The rise of AAP is a serious threat to Congress, both in the national and state-level contexts,” he said.
He said after an empathic win in Punjab, AAP will use every possibility to displace the Congress wherever it gets the opportunity.
“Himachal Pradesh, where assembly elections are due later this year, will be its next target. The Congress is weakened after the death of its mass leader Virbhadra Singh,” he added
“AAP’s politics will now centre around replacing Congress, which should alarm the grand old party, which is already in a critical state of affairs,” he said.
What explains the Congress’s loss?
It is not hard to unpack the Congress’s loss in Punjab, given that the party had been in complete disarray for months before the polls. At the centre of the internal conflict was the sudden replacement of its chief minister Amarinder Singh last September, just months ahead of the election.
This, many believe, was a damage control effort by the party to improve its chances at the ballot. However, it proved detrimental to its fortunes.
Indiscipline reigned the party post the Amarinder episode. Sidhu is largely blamed for it, as he continued to oppose the party’s decision to replace Amarinder with Channi in the public domain.
By the time Sidhu was tamed, it was too late.
“Infighting, indiscipline, tickets for notes, workers’ disenchantment, inflated egos, and arrogance of its leaders have mauled Congress in Punjab,” tweeted Jasbir Singh Gill, Congress’s Member of Parliament from Punjab’s Khadoor Sahib after the election verdict.
Asking the party to introspect, he said a few months before the Punjab election, the Congress had a handsome chance to retain the government. But it gave this away due to its own blunders.
Senior journalist Jagtar Singh blamed the downfall on the Gandhi siblings, who he said, did not take appropriate action at the appropriate time, thereby leaving the party in chaos.
As per the latest data, the party’s vote share tanked from 38.5% in 2017 to 23% in 2022. The 15% dip is also a reflection of the fact that the party’s final strategy to bet on Channi to consolidate Dalit voters and keep anti-incumbency at bay backfired.
But the voters appear unimpressed by the Congress’s failure to improve governance and eradicate mafia raj in Punjab and instead remain busy fighting among themselves for their own vested interests.
Amarinder Singh, who fought in an alliance with the BJP, too did not leave any stone unturned to humiliate his former party. He repeatedly accused Congress MLAs in Punjab of corruption.
This ultimately hurt the credibility of both Amarinder as well as the Congress party.
The fact that both Sidhu and Channi lost also indicates that their persona and popularity was overhyped due to excess media attention. After the defeat will, Sidhu will need to consider his future in politics.
‘The Congress’s defeat and AAP’s rise directly linked’
Professor Jagroop Sekhon, another political analyst from Amritsar told The Wire that the Congress’s defeat and the AAP’s rise are directly linked.
“Voters in Punjab had huge hopes from the Congress when it was voted to power with a huge mandate in the 2017 polls. But sadly the situation only got worse, which made voters make a titanic shift towards AAP, the third alternative, since they had no real faith in the Akalis either,” said Sekhon.
He also pointed out that in many constituencies, AAP’s margins were huge. Sitting AAP MLA from Sunam, Aman Arora recorded the highest victory margin in the polls – winning by more than 75,000 votes.
Political analyst Pramod Kumar said that Punjab’s unprecedented verdict in favour of AAP is due to public anger against Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal.
“The two major parties failed to provide good quality of life. AAP had no historic baggage, unlike traditional parties,” he said.
Pramod added, “It is a vote for hope, for improving governance and ending ‘mafia raj’. It remains to be seen if AAP lives up to it.”
Pramod Kumar said if AAP does well, it will be hard for traditional parties, especially the Congress, to revive itself. Moreover, it opens up the possibility of AAP’s expansion in other states.
He added that another major trend that this election has shown is that Dera politics, religion and caste polarisation did not make any impact.
Some among Congress old guard retained seats
While many bigwigs fell, some of the old guards of Punjab Congress managed to retain their seats.
Prominent among them is former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa from Quadian, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa from Dera Baba Nanak, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria from Raja Sansi, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa from Fatehgarh Churian, Sukhpal Singh Khaira from Bholath and Amarinder Singh Raja Warring from Gidderbaha.
Besides, Pargat Singh too retained its seat from Jalandhar Cantt. With Sidhu offering to resign as Punjab Congress chief, any of them may be given the responsibility to revive the party.
Meanwhile, star appeal also did not work for the Congress. It fielded pop Singer Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu Moosewala from Mansa. He lost by a whopping margin of more than 66,000 votes to AAP’s Vijay Singla.
Bollywood star Sonu Sood’s sister Malvika Sood also lost badly from Moga to AAP’s Amandeep Kaur Arora by over 20,000 votes.
Among other heavyweights to lose the election is former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who lost in Lehra by 39,000 votes.
Apart from Sidhu and Channi, eight cabinet ministers were also defeated. Among them, former finance minister Manpreet Badal lost his constituency Bathinda Urban by nearly 70,000 votes.