Why an AAP 'Tsunami' – and Not Just Wave – Has Come Over Punjab

Anger against traditional parties, infighting in the Congress and AAP's positive campaign all played a role.

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Chandigarh: Riding on the anger against the traditional parties, the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party swept Punjab polls, registering the biggest ever victory in the state. As per the latest information available from the Election Commission’s website, AAP has won 92 out of 117 seats, much ahead of the majority mark of 59 seats.

No party in Punjab ever registered such an emphatic win in the history of its polls.

AAP’s wave was so strong that it even did not spare bigwigs like Shiromani Akali Dal patriarch and five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and former Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh who could not hold on to their respective constituencies of Lambi and Patiala.

Even SAD president Sukhbir Badal, incumbent Congress chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu have lost from their respective constituencies. Later, Sidhu resigned from his post.

“This was not a victory, it was a tsunami that swept away everyone,” said political analyst Jamshid Khan.

AAP’s chief minister-designate Bhagwant Mann, who won with over 50,000 votes from Dhuri, in his victory speech at Sangrur thanked voters for the massive mandate to the party.

”Give me a month and you will start noticing the difference in the [welfare] delivery system,” said Mann, who announced that he would take oath as Punjab’s 17th chief minister from Khatkar Kalan, the birthplace of Shaheed Bhagat Singh in Nawanshahr district.

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal and AAPs Chief Ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann flash the victory sign, as the party heads to a landslide victory in Punjab Assembly elections. Photo: PTI

He said his first act as chief minister will be to provide employment to the youth. His government will operate from villages, not in big mansions, he said – in a dig at Amarinder Singh and the Badals. Mann said earlier people used to knock on officers’ gates. Now, officers will come to people’s doorsteps in villages.

Addressing supporters in Delhi, AAP national convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “The Aam Aadmi (common man) has defeated Charanjit Singh Channi, Navjot Sidhu, Amarinder Singh, Bikram Majithia… Don’t upset the common man, or even the most powerful will be shown the door.” Mr Kejriwal said “But such a huge majority – we feel scared too. We cannot be arrogant.”

Kejriwal quoted legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as saying that without a change in the system, nothing could change.

Traditional parties decimated

Even as votes are still being counted, AAP candidates have been winning convincingly from all regions of Punjab: Malwa, Majha and Doaba. Even cities like Amritsar and Ludhiana, where once Congress and BJP had a stronghold, have shifted to AAP candidates.

Punjab’s electoral outcome is historic in the sense that it is the first time that a third front is set to form the government in Punjab, where SAD and Congress ruled alternatively since the state’s reorganisation in 1966.

Not this time, however. The biggest upset of the election is the rout of the incumbent Congress. The party that won convincingly in 2017 is down to 18 from 77 seats it won last time.

Incumbent chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, on whom Congress placed a big bet and hoped he would consolidate Dalit votes, lost both his seats: Chamkaur Sahib in Ropar district as well as Bhadaur in Barnala district.

As many as eight cabinet ministers in the Congress government were badly lost. Among them, former finance minister Manpreet Badal was defeated by more than 60,000 votes. Deputy chief minister O.P. Soni (Amritsar central) too could not survive.

Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa (Dera Baba Nanak), Tript Singh Bajwa, Rana Gurjeet Singh (Kapurthala), Raja Warring and Aruna Chaudhary (Dina Nagar) are among a handful of Congress ministers surviving the AAP wave.

Also read: Punjab: Aam Aadmi Party Marks a Historic Electoral Victory

The situation of Congress is such that Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu lost from Amritsar East as political novice Jeewan Jyot Kaur of the AAP has emerged victorious.

The results come as a major embarrassment to Punjab’s grand old party, SAD, which could not even reach a double-digit mark. The BJP-Amarinder Singh alliance too did not work at all.

The scale of AAP’s win could be gauged from the fact that despite a five-cornered contest, AAP got 42% vote share, 17% higher than the 2017 election.

In the Malwa region, it got a huge mandate with over 47% votes going to AAP’s kitty.  The party swept the Maja region also, by winning 17 out of 25 seats. As far as the Doaba region is concerned, AAP couldn’t perform well, as it could secure only nine seats out of 23.

With just 22% and 18% vote share, voters have clearly rejected both Congress and SAD. BJP could not get more than 6% vote share despite the energy put in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Farmers’ outfit Sanyukt Samaj Morach was a complete failure as most of its candidates are likely to forfeit their security deposit.

Dera factor, polarisation failed 

As AAP is set to form a government in Punjab with a massive mandate, it is clear that the rallying against AAP did not sway voters.

“It is the anger against the traditional parties that has been prime factor for AAP’s landslide victory in Punjab,” said political analyst Jamshid Khan.

A few days before Punjab went to polls, Baba Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda of Haryana’s Sirsa, a man convicted of rape and other crimes, was released on parole by the BJP-ruled government in neighbouring Haryana. It was, as many believed, a hidden agenda for both BJP and SAD to sway voters in Punjab’s Malwa region where the Dera has sizeable followers.

But with AAP sweeping the Malwa area, which has 69 out of 117 seats in Punjab, it is clear that Dera factor did not work at all. There was another ploy to create trouble for AAP when the prime minister released a picture with vastly respected Dera Beas chief just a day before Punjab voters lined up outside the polling booths. Dera Beas is believed to have a huge following among Punjab’s upper classes. Again, this failed to convince voters.

AAP candidate from Patiala constituency Ajitpal Singh Kohli, who is contesting against former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh, celebrates his partys lead during counting day of Punjab Assembly elections, in Patiala district, Thursday, March 10, 2022. Photo: PTI.

Two days before the polling on February 20, there was a clear attempt to polarise the decisive Hindu vote bank, with former AAP leader Kumar Vishwas giving media interviews accusing AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal of supporting separatists during the 2017 polls.

Even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi played along on the issue, seeking answers from Kejriwal on the allegations that his former colleague Kumar Vishwas had raised in a media interview on February 17.

Later Vishwas got Y+ security from the Union government. As AAP is leading in urban seats in major cities of Punjab, including Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar, the writing is clear on the wall that the polarisation attempts did not work.

AAP’s winning strategies

The first major reason for AAP’s win is the anger against traditional parties, particularly SAD and Congress, which ruled Punjab alternatively since the state’s reorganisation.

People of Punjab were unhappy for long with the performance of traditional parties as they were blamed for the rise in the drug menace and mafia raj in Punjab.

This narrative deepened due to the failure of the incumbent Congress government, which could not live up its promises to eradicate the drug problem as well as ending the sand and liquor mafia in Punjab.

Jamshid Khan told The Wire that the 2022 election outcome reflected the sheer disappointment of people towards traditional parties. But the task for the new government will not be easy since Punjab’s issues have become quite complex.

Also read: Assembly Election Results Live: BJP Set to Win 4 States, AAP Sweeps Punjab

The second major reason was the impact of the farmers’ movement. The year-long movement of which Punjab was epicentre made voters more politically independent and aware. This helped push the badlav (change) narrative that loomed over Punjab in the run up to the election.

The internal rift in Congress too played a huge role in turning AAP’s fortunes. The unceremonious exit of Amarinder Singh at the fag end of Congress rule in Punjab, and then intense fight between Channi and Sidhu, it appeared, was a key reason for the rise in AAP’s popularity.

Then, the verdict also confirmed that odds against SAD were too high for the party to come out of the humiliating defeat of the previous election. With another defeat, the leadership of the SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal is set to come under the scanner.

AAP’s positive campaign too played a major role in swaying the voters. The party appeared weak in the initial phase of campaigning, as more than half of its MLAs deserted the party to join the Congress.

But thanks to its aggressive campaign both online and offline, it soon caught on with the public mood of ‘badlav’.

Its campaign slogan ‘Ik Mauka AAP Nu’ became a slogan of the election. The move by the party to announce chief ministerial face a month before the voting too went in its favour.

The focus on the AAP on the ‘Delhi model of governance’ also seems to have resonated with voters. Voters believed AAP could deliver on the health and education front, besides taming the mafia raj as it promised before the election.

Besides, AAP wooed voters with various popular schemes including Rs 1,000 per month to all women in Punjab above 18 years of age and 300 units per month of free electricity.

Many also see it as an end of feudal politics in Punjab. Political analyst Ashutosh Kumar said that there would be a rise of new politics in Punjab, with leaders coming from the ground making it to the top.