Punjab voters, defying all opinion or exit polls have voted decisively in favour of the Congress. It has mustered 77 of 117 assembly seats and Capt. Amarinder Singh, scion of erstwhile Patiala royal family is now people’s Maharaja, as he wishes to be known. Punjab has also offered hope to the beleaguered Congress to survive the BJP onslaught.
Punjab voters were decisive in more than one way; they out rightly rejected the Akali BJP coalition’s third successive bid for power and relegated to third place with 18 seats and dealt severe blow to the aspirations of the Aam Aadmi Party by letting it have mere 20 seats . The Congress vote share rose to 38.5 per cent. Akalis got 25.2 per cent. The AAP aspiring to cross 50 per cent mark could get only 23.7 per cent and BJP tally fell to three from the previous 13 with a vote share of 5.4 percent. None of the left candidates could save the security deposit.
The AAP, blowing its trumpet had declared to win at least 90 seats. Its ambition to use Punjab as springboard to be a pan India party has proved just vainglorious. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while rest of the country rejected the party, Punjab offered a strong foothold by electing four members to the lower house. But it wasted that verdict by throwing two senior MPs and even founding leaders out of the party. Allegations of nepotism and fund misuse were plenty to frighten the electors who found leaders like Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal as too arrogant. They are now licking their wounds. The results must have dismayed a large number of Punjabi NRIs who flew in to support with money and manpower.
For Akalis, particularly the extended clan of the Badals, it is one of the worst drubbing in its long history of electoral battles. Whatever it could get was more or less due to extra electoral means. Huge money power and support from the dubious Deras, the religious seminaries that dot Punjab’s every nook and corner, helped. Many of its leaders who had mostly ruled roughshod, adding to their pelf and power fell on the wayside. Elderly Parkash Singh Badal, who ended his fifth term rather ingloriously, shall have to sit back and amuse himself with the past innings. His son, deputy chief minister and all powerful president of the Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal would have enough time count his past blessings and the business empire that he has built. It looked strange, while Punjab suffered worst nepotism at the hands of his semi feudal lords, his business flourished as did of his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a junior minister in the Modi government.
The Akalis could not fully answer charges of drug menace that is wasting away a whole generation of Punjabi youth, nepotism, large scale corruption at all levels that was taking heavy toll on governance and imperious nature of its leaders and cadres. For Akalis, the government was more of a fiefdom than an elected government duty bound to serve the people. Sukhbir had always boasted of his micro management of electoral processes, funding rebels from the rival parties and using every possible mean to outsmart the opponents with money and muscle. But all that came to a naught.
But Punjab made it clear to the Akalis that they could no longer suffer the ordeals and sent them packing. Equally, they were not in mood to experiment with a new alternative in the form of AAP, a motley crowd of extremists from both, the right and the left, opportunists, ambitious and of course some well meaning people also. Kejriwal, displayed a hothead full of incoherent ideas offered something to everybody, often constricting one from the other. While some of the AAP leaders are blaming Deras and EVMs, others wish to have introspection and find political reasons for the defeat. The top leaders ought to be measuring their ill fate and a near end to their pan India ambitions. The party ought to deliver in Delhi where it rules and stop nick picking.
This election also reveals a large picture and political lessons for the hapless Congress leaders. Build local leaders, stop encouraging the infighting and bring its own house to order. This was Capt. Amarinder Singh who asserted and forced hands of both Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to agree to his taking over the reins the Congress in Punjab and be projected as chief minister. Once all this was clear, he led from the front and placed the party to the winning pedestal. It was he who designed that one family would have one ticket and the feudal style shall to be limited. Then, it was decided to take on the top leaders of the Akalis- both the Badals. While he himself contested against the chief minister, a young Lok Sabha member Ravneet Singh Bittu fought against Sukhbir. Though both lost, it galvanized the election campaign and the Congress workers and pushed the Badals into their dens. Amarinder won hands down against an Akali candidate, former chief of the Indian army Gen. J.J. Singh who lost not only his security deposit but his reputation as he had mouthed offensive language.
People of Punjab, forgetting past the experience, have favoured Capt. Amarinder Singh and given him a wonderful gift on his 75th birthday, he ought to return this favour and provide at least a good responsible government.