With Punjab Voting For Change, Even Doaba Has Failed to Save Congress’s Face

People appeared to have keep traditional political and caste equations at bay, upending Congress's calculations.

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Jalandhar: While the Aam Admi Party (AAP) won with a thumping majority of 92 seats in Punjab, Congress’s move to bank on Dalit politics by appointing Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister could not help the party, especially in Doaba where Dalit communities hold the key.

Doaba, with an over 32% Dalit concentration, delivered a mixed verdict on the 23 assembly seats, out of which eight are reserved. The region also somehow proved to be a bit of a saving grace for the Congress.

In Doaba, AAP won ten seats, Congress nine, and Shiromani Akali Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and an Independent candidate, one each.

In the 2017 elections, Congress had won 15 out of the total 23 seats of Doaba region while AAP could bag only two seats.

However, this time, keeping traditional political and caste equations at bay, people appeared to have voted for change. AAP’s lesser-known candidates gave stiff competition to both the Congress and SAD on all seats.

AAP also got a major boost in the Malwa region, where it won 66 out of the total 69 seats. In Majha, AAP won 16 out of the total 25 seats, while the Congress won seven and SAD and BJP one each.

With Channi’s appointment as the first-ever Dalit chief minister, and the SAD-BSP alliance, Punjab assembly elections seemed to be revolving around Dalit politics. It was witnessed as a major political move and a possible game changer in the state elections.

Charanjit Singh Channi. Photo: PTI

However, Channi lost from both Chamkaur Sahib, his home turf, and Bhadaur seats. He was also unable to strongly impact the turnout of Dalit votes in Doaba. The discourse focused on Dalit consolidation had a limited impact and affected Congress’s tally, while AAP emerged with flying colours across the state.

Out of the eight reserved seats in Doaba, Congress won four – Adampur, Phillaur, Phagwara and Chabbewal.

The other four reserved seats include Jalandhar West, Kartarpur in Jalandhar district, Sham Chaurasi in Hoshiarpur district and Banga in Nawanshahr district.

In Adampur, Congress’s Sukhwinder Singh Kotli, also a former BSP leader, defeated two-time sitting SAD MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu by 4,567 votes.

In the Phillaur seat, Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary won by the highest margin of 12,303 votes among all the 18 Congress winners. He defeated sitting SAD MLA Baldev Singh Khaira.

Also read: In Punjab, Congress Proved Its Own Enemy and Paved Way for AAP’s Rise

Similarly, in Phagwara, sitting Congress MLA Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal bagged 37,102 votes by defeating AAP’s Joginder Singh Mann. In Chabbewal, sitting Congress MLA Raj Kumar defeated AAP candidate Harminder Singh by 7,719 votes.

Apart from this, the Congress managed to wrest control of Jalandhar Cantt, Jalandhar North, Shahkot in Jalandhar district; Phagwara, Kapurthala, Bholath seats in Kapurthala district; and Chabbewal seat in Hoshiarpur district.

An Independent candidate, Rana Inder Pratap Singh, won from the Sultanpur Lodhi seat of Kapurthala. Pratap is the son of senior Congress leader Rana Gurjeet Singh, who also managed to win his own seat in Kapurthala. Despite strong opposition from the party, Rana had fielded his son against sitting Congress MLA Navtej Singh Cheema, but he won.

On the other hand, the Congress failed to open its account in Nawanshahr district, where all three seats went to SAD, BSP and AAP.

What voters want

Talking to The Wire, Chandigarh-based senior journalist and author Jagtar Singh said, “Basically, people have expressed their latent anger against the traditional parties Congress and SAD. Both the parties are corrupt and degenerated. The way they have been operating in Punjab, people had this time made up their mind to reject them.”

Jagtar also said that with the historic victory of AAP in Punjab, people have started a new trend of politics. “Punjab’s politics has always been different from the other states. This time, people not just shunned traditional parties, their politics, Deras and all ways of wooing voters. The results showed that people voted for transparency, good governance and wanted the ruling class to remain among them. Till now mafias, bureaucracy and elites were operating in Punjab, now it is the turn of the common man,” he added.

Reacting to the dismal show of the Congress in Doaba and Punjab, Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary, who won from the Phillaur (reserve) seat, said, “It is unfortunate that the Congress could not perform well and even Charanjit Singh Channi lost from both the seats, but we managed to retain our seats in Doaba. We are ready to perform the role of a responsible opposition.”

Chaudhary pointed out how Congress’s Sukhwinder Kotli defeated two-time SAD MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu from the Adampur (reserve) seat and said that the Congress had a strong presence in many seats in Doaba.

In the 2012 elections, the then SAD-BJP alliance had won 15 out of the total 23 seats, while in the 2007 elections, the alliance had won 17 out of the total 25 seats. However, this time, Doaba gave mixed results.

AAP’s clean sweep in Malwa

The major push in AAP’s seat tally came from the Malwa region, where it won 66 out of the total 69 assembly seats. While SAD won only one seat, the Congress won two.

Interestingly, from the Malwa region itself, AAP crossed the majority mark of 59 seats (out of the total 117) required to form the government. Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda’s impact was also negated in the Malwa region to such an extent that neither the BJP nor SAD could win any seats.

Ahead of the polls, Dera Sacha Sauda’s infamous chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, convicted of rape, was released on furlough. The move assumed significance with respect to the Deras’ influence and their role in elections. As per experts, Singh’s parole was expected to help the BJP win some seats in Malwa.

“The Dera supporters have released ‘double engine ki sarkar’ slips and this can be a game changer for the BJP,” a BJP leader had told The Wire, a week before the polls.

The Malwa region had already emerged as an AAP stronghold when the party made its foray in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It had won four parliamentary seats, stunning election experts, and paving the way for its growth in the biggest region of Punjab.

Also read: Why an AAP ‘Tsunami’ – And Not Just Wave – Has Come Over Punjab

AAP’s maiden victory in Majha

Punjab’s Majha region, comprising Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts, has 25 seats. AAP won 16 seats, while the Congress won seven, and one seat each went to the BJP and SAD.

Out of the 16 seats, AAP managed to wrest control of ten out of the 15 ‘Panthic’ seats of the Majha region. These include Sri Hargobindpur, Attari, Amritsar South, Jandiala, Baba Bakala, Ajnala, Tarn Taran, Khadoor Sahib, Khemkaran and Patti.

The other five seats which AAP won were Dera Baba Nanak, Fatehgarh Churian, Qadian and Raja Sansi.

For SAD, the lone face saver in the region was former MLA Bikram Singh Majithia’s wife, Ganieve Kaur, who won with 26,156 votes. Bikram lost from Amritsar East seat, where he was pitted against his arch rival Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu. Both Majithia and Sidhu lost from Amritsar East while AAP’s Jeevan Jyot emerged as the dark horse.