Why AAP lost Punjab

Harmeet Shah Singh
Harmeet Shah SinghMar 11, 2017 | 20:34

Why AAP lost Punjab

It's a bit too early to deliver a comprehensive report on the autopsy of Punjab elections.

As I write this piece, I can see Amarinder Singh's Congress party settling down at 76 of 117 seats of the Assembly.

Badals' Shiromani Akali Dal has, as of now, won 15 and its ally BJP 3.

If I were to stop here, I'd conclude it's the SAD's worst performance.


Given the Akalis' control of the top Sikh religious administration, the SGPC and their track record in state elections, their numbers from the 2017 vote suggest the Badals have led what they proudly proclaim as a grouping of martyrs to near insignificance in secular politics.

But the story doesn't end here. Nor does it end with Amarinder Singh's sweep.

Rather, it begins with the underperformance of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The Maur bombing came as the last straw. Photo: PTI

Both Kejriwal and his team have spoken repeatedly about punching a massive hole in the state's duopoly. Not massively, but the AAP did, in all fairness, break the bipolar character of Punjab's polity.

But the question is what really threw a spanner in the AAP works.

There could be several, if not many, factors. Remember the Maur explosion?

Just four days before the vote, a blast ripped through a political rally at Maur near Bathinda in an attack police described as a "targeted terrorist crime".

Before that, a right-wing Hindu leader was shot dead in Ludhiana by unidentified gunmen on January 14.

The AAP convenor won overwhelming support from diasporic Sikhs in his bid to wrest power from the Akalis.


Many of them flew down to the state and camped in till the last vote was cast.

In their election speeches, both deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh accused Kejriwal of cozying up to Khalistanis.

It's no secret that a large number of Sikhs demanding a separate homeland carved out of Punjab live in Europe, Canada and the US.

Whether members of this diaspora backing Kejriwal were Khalistani advocates isn't known.

But Badal and Singh's allegations impacted perceptions in a state that has emerged out of a 15-year period of unrest.

In Punjab, Khalistan is no longer an issue. Separatists within the state have been pushed to the margins.

Kejriwal and his team denied accusations of separatist links. But the AAP leader wasn't really able to defuse the Khalistan narrative his opponents had floated against him in the campaign.

The Maur bombing came as the last straw. A religious breakdown of the 2011 census figures shows Sikhs make up 1.62 crore and Hindus 1.06 crore of Punjab's total population.

If the Akalis, who boycotted the 1992 state elections, won the vote in 1997, it was largely because of their support base among moderate Sikhs and Hindus.


In the nut, this combined vote bloc has been a kingmaker over the past 20 years.

Allegations of Kejriwal flirting with suspected militants and the Maur explosion took a toll on voter confidence.

A sizeable chunk of urban Punjabi Hindus and traders, especially, might have withdrawn itself from the AAP to instead throw its weight behind the Congress party.

Electoral pundits will, of course, do their complete post-mortem of what went wrong with the Kejriwal campaign.

For now, it's declared crushed - partly by the Khalistani bogey.

Last updated: March 11, 2017 | 20:39
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