With voters of Punjab casting their ballots today, curiosity prevails regarding who will get to govern the state. Over the past month media coverage has tended to favour Congress’s chances at the hustings. Time and again, we have been told how while AAP was leading a year back but it has lost steam in the crucial last few months of the election and Congress is poised to win the elections with AAP being placed second.
But the ground mood seems to be unambiguously in favour of AAP and Punjab, like Delhi, may prove to be another embarrassment for all of us analysts, who are refusing to acknowledge a wave even when we are staring at it.
Badals face unprecedented disgruntlement and AAP has successfully established itself as the most vocal opponent of Badals
The Badals are facing a deep and widely shared hostility from voters. The disgust for Badals is so deep that it can’t be described adequately from the lens of normal anti incumbency. The voters have brought the charge that Badals are responsible for Punjab’s drug problem. Badal’s are also resented for the family rule they have perpetuated. They also inspire loathing of the public for the different enterprises they run often by undermining rival state controlled corporations. The charge of crony capitalism has struck with them. They also face anger of their traditional vote-bank due to their inapt handling of the sensitive sacrilege issue. Thus Badals are rightly fearing a complete washout and the race is primarily between Congress and AAP.
AAP has been instrumental in creating this environment against SAD through an intense and continuous campaign against Badals for nearly three years. In fact before AAP emerged in Punjab, Badals were having a dream run, having broken the trend of Punjab rotating governments by getting the better of congress twice continuously in 2007 as well as 2012.
But not only did AAP spearhead the mood shift against the Badals’, it has continuously outwitted Congress in projecting itself as the party of choice for the large section of society which is disgruntled with the ruling family. Whether it was Arvind Kejriwal-led high decibel campaign against drug or the promise of putting Majithia in jail before 15th April, AAP has left no stone unturned to emerge as the lead opponent of Badals. Congress, for all the media’s acclaim, has played catch up with AAP- whether it was belatedly fielding its top guns against the Akali stalwarts or trying to match AAP’s shrill pitch against Majithia (the Akali minister popularly believed to be kingpin of Punjab’s drub trade).
AAP has stolen a lead in campaigning
AAP has not been content with only setting the agenda, it has also stolen a lead in campaigning. It has incessantly mobilised the public for the past one year.In the last leg, it has run a campaign whose intensity and scale should be an envy of all. Its top leaders are campaigning on a scale seldom matched by rivals in this election as well as those in the past. Bhagwant Mann, AAP’s biggest crowd puller has held 360 meetings, Arvind Kejriwal 112 meetings and Sanjay Singh 170 such events. Most of these events have been thronged by public. AAP’s social media presence is also far superior to Congress, it’s main rival in Punjab. As we speak, a voter in Punjab is likely to have been contacted more intensely by AAP than Congress and is more likely to be familiar with AAP’s perspective than its rivals.
AAP’s high pitch reach out to Dalit voters could play a crucial role
AAP has also reached out strongly to Dalit voters, who constitute 32% of state’s voters and are concentrated more in Doaba region (where AAP is siad to be relatively weak). It has taken out a special manifesto for Dalits, has announced that if it comes to power deputy CM would be a Dalit and has made a prized catch in Dalit icon Bant Singh who as a singer identified with Dalit struggle, could give just the right final push for Dalit tilt towards AAP in the polls.
Congress frittered away momentum because of infighting and wrestling for tickets
At the start of December when AAP was still fresh from the wounds of bad blood in its ranks due to the fallout of ticket distribution and when their were many desertions from the party and Congress smartphone promise had received a good response, the momentum seemed to be on the side of Congress. But as it often happens with Congress, it did the best to undermine its own chance by a prolonged tussle among the top leaders for seat distribution.
From early December to mid January, the Congress campaign came to a virtual standstill as most of its top leaders along with claimants for MLA tickets camped in Delhi to get tickets for their respective choices from Congress high command. As a result till the eleventh hour candidates were not declared despite Election Commission having provided a very short campaign duration for Punjab polls. All this while, when Congress leaders were busy messaging high command’s ego, AAP was frantically campaigning.
Punjab is famous for being the state with a large number of NRIs and they always play a significant role in the state. Sensing this, AAP has cultivated a strong connect with Punjabi NRI community. They too have embraced AAP, so much so, that AAP’s rivals have complained about their role in the elections.
But by complaining against NRIs, Congress and Akali Dal have only played into AAP’s hands. Firstly, now the crucial NRI community is likely to be more polarised in favour of AAP. Secondly, targeting NRIs alongside raising the Khalistan factor was a double folly. Secondly, the multitudes of NRIs who have descended in Punjab have played a decisive role in boosting AAP’s reach-out to Punjab.
So why is there a media chorus that AAP is loosing Punjab? It’s undeniable that the party, that wins Punjab will get to play the lead opponent’s role of the BJP in 2019. Both BJP and Congress would prefer that the latter and not AAP gets to face the saffron party in 2019.
BJP will prefer this as it finds easy to square off against the tainted and discredited Congress instead of the energetic and largely taint-free AAP. So both Congress and BJP have pulled all strings to create a media narrative that AAP is loosing Punjab. It is AAP that has led the action on the ground, therefore, come 11 March, Kejriwal may have the last laugh.