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This article has been co-authored by Politicalbaba and Subhash Chandra.
While earlier polls (C-Voter / VDP Associates) showed AAP sweeping Punjab, recent India Today – Axis Poll has put them at second place behind Congress.
The Uri attack and subsequent retaliation by Indian forces across the LoC has led to an interesting turn of events in elections bound Punjab. Akali-BJP combine which is facing strong anti-incumbency is claiming credit for the decisive action and hopes to gain some lost ground.
This has come at a time when AAP (front runner as per opinion polls) is facing some setbacks. It had to even fire its state chief and Sidhu who was slated to join AAP formed his own front.
Punjab shares its borders with Pakistan and is strategic from security point of view. In this context, people of the state will now have to think twice before voting for a regional party which has no stated policy on Pakistan.
AAP signalled the rise of a third alternative in Punjab in 2014 Lok Sabha polls
AAP bagged 4 seats and secured nearly one-fourth of the total votes polled. 13% of traditional Congress supporters and 17% of SAD-BJP supporters voted for AAP (CSDS). AAP benefitted from double anti-incumbency, anger against the Congress-led Union government as well as the anger against the SAD-BJP state government.
However, events in the past few months along with the recent Uri episode seem to have diminished the lead of AAP. In this post we enlist factors why AAP may not be able to win Punjab elections.
1. Uri attack and India’s retaliation fast becoming a political issue in the state
In the aftermath of India’s surgical strikes across the LoC, border villages have been evacuated across 16 assembly segments spread over 6 districts (14% of total seats). Akali-BJP govt. is claiming credit for this bold step and even creating a war like fervour as alleged by Congress. This may benefit the incumbent govt. if displacement is taken care of well and people are rehabilitated.
Congress is aware of this threat as 16 seats in a predominantly triangular contest is a lot. It would want to play up the discontent with a section of people unhappy with the relocation. Amarinder Singh has alleged that Akalis are creating panic among villagers and there is no war like situation to tackle the nationalist fervour which Akalis may try to build up.
Punjab is a strategic border state and to elect a regional party which has no policy on international relations and is at loggerheads with central govt. is something people of Punjab will have to grapple with now.
However, given that violence in Kashmir is likely to reduce from November onwards (due to the winter) and the central government’s focus is the economy, it is unlikely that Uri and related surgical attacks will play a critical role in the election in February.
2. Average track record of AAP govt. in Delhi
Delhi is suffering from massive outbreak of chikungunya and dengue. Absence of ministers of AAP govt. including top men Kejriwal and Sisodia from the scene did not help the party.
Shiela Dixit ran successfully a govt. for 15 years in similar conditions where LG was the administrative control authority. Critics of party claim it thrives on confrontation and effectively after High Court has rejected AAP’s plea regarding powers of CM, party is adopting a hands off approach.
The performance of the AAP Government in Delhi creates uncertainty in the minds of the average Punjab voter who is already reeling from slow economic growth and drug issues. It would have reaped rich dividends to AAP if they would have seized the opportunity developing Delhi as a model state and then ask for votes on the basis of its performance.
3. Absence of CM candidate, Local Unit in Chaos & Party’s strength is restricted to Malwa region
While Congress and SAD have more or less announced their CM candidate, AAP is still figuring out who would lead the party in the State for 2017. All the surveys done in Punjab so far show Kejriwal as the preferred candidate. The party does not have a strong candidate outside Kejriwal and this could turn off swing voters who may go with the comfort of the familiar leaders like Capt Amarinder and Badal. Kejriwal being a non-Sikh also doesn’t help his cause in a state which has always elected CMs from the community.
The entire campaign has been mired with controversies. Dis-respect to Guru Granth Sahib, allegations of sex scandals for distribution of tickets, sacking of party chief, Bhagwant Man’s Parliament security breach episode are some examples.
All 4 MPs of AAP from Punjab won from Malwa region. Malwa accounts for 69/117 seats and in the balance 48 seats of Doaba and Majha it has no / limited presence. While Malwa is very important and only once has a CM of Punjab been from a region other than Malwa, 2 of its 4 MPs from that region have been suspended. The suspension may create some uncertainty amongst voters who voted for AAP in 2014.
4. Congress is geared up quite well
On the other hand, the Congress machinery is quite well geared to perform well in Punjab. There is greater alignment in terms of their CM candidate. When asked to name the best chief minister in the past 20 years, 40% vouched for Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh (C-Voter poll). The party has also managed to enthuse workers on the ground. Of course, it does not imply that they will win Punjab but it sends out a message to the voters that they are better prepared than AAP to govern Punjab and thus win many of the anti-incumbent votes.
5. Split of anti-incumbency vote
The contest which was predominantly bipolar has become triangular SAD-INC-AAP. Siddhu’s front would also support either AAP or Congress (still not clear). Additionally, BSP has been traditionally getting 4%-5% vote share in the state as Dalits account for 32% population of the state. The recent anti-Dalit events in Una and rest of India may further consolidate Dalit votes in favour of Mayawati.
To conclude, AAP gained traction among voters due to the apathy of people towards the political class in general. The party with a difference has acquired the properties of other political parties in the process and is seen losing some of its support base.
While the party has done some good work in Delhi wrt water, electricity, reduction of corruption, mohalla clinics, its constant tussle with LG and playing the victim card blaming center for all woes of Delhi doesn’t work anymore. People are fed up with its rhetoric. Will people of Punjab give a strategic state like Punjab which shares a border with Pakistan to AAP?
That said, with a gap of 10% points in most surveys, the party can still clean up its act by carrying out a variety of interventions in Delhi, in appointing a CM candidate in Punjab and sorting the party machinery in the State. It also has to make vocal its Pakistan policy and convince voters that it can work in sync with the central govt. on security issues.
Whether AAP is capable of bringing about this change will determine whether the party can eventually win Punjab, until then, the mood is sombre and task uphill.
A variant of this article was first published in The Quint.