AAP stood for change and Punjab was ripe for the picking but an overconfident and inexperienced AAP floundered with its messaging and its issues
It was a forgone conclusion that the Akali Dal-BJP alliance was heading for a collapse at the hustings. While India focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Punjab resolved to defeat deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, and his gang of unconstitutional administrators called halka (light) in-charges. As Captain Amarinder Singh swept Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party setback surprised everyone.
The arrival of AAP in 2014 parliamentary elections in Punjab was like a crisp winter chill sweeping it. AAP stood for change and Punjab was ripe for the picking. By presenting itself as the enemy of status quo, AAP could have been the election protagonist but it was not to be. An overconfident and inexperienced AAP kept floundering especially with its inability to project a chief ministerial candidate.
The Congress successfully used the SYL canal issue to pin down Arvind Kejriwal, who remained an outsider. The heady AAP apparatus continued to be led by those from outside the state as it embroiled itself in controversies. The tipping point was the ouster of Suchha Singh Chottepur due to inter-party bickering. Had AAP managed to win over Navjot Sidhu at the time, it just may have compensated the loss. Allegations of sale of tickets were only levelled against one party, AAP.
Core Khalistani radicals started to support AAP presuming it would not be able to govern effectively and they stood a chance of reviving militancy. Much of the secular electorate, frightened with the prospect of instability and an uncertain AAP agenda, turned to the stable, tried and tested alternative of the Congress party. Even many Sikhs, who had started to feel that the Badal family had destroyed the Sikh institutions and politicised Sikh clergy, voted for Captain Amarinder Singh.
Many BJP workers, who were forced to share power even though they were part of the ruling regime, were feeling exasperated with Akali Dal and voted for the Congress. The Congress leadership gave a serious issue-based discourse while new AAP campaigners turned aggressive when people paid no heed to their campaign. The Dera Sacha Sauda, which has a following among the poor people, is concentrated in the Malwa region. In the last leg of the election, it directed its followers to vote for the Akali Dal-BJP combine, surprising many. AAP was immediately impacted.
Many of the poor who had been shifting to AAP returned to vote for the ruling alliance in Malwa. People forget that there is a CBI case pending against the Dera head. Such is the influence of investigation agencies on election outcomes.
After the shock defeat of 2012, Congress as the principal opposition party kept the pot boiling successfully against the ruling alliance. After 10 years in the opposition, the Congress fought with its back to the wall. Each worker knew that the party would cease to exist if it lost again. Only in the beginning of 2016 did the state Congress leaders manage to convince the Congress high command to bring back Captain Amarinder Singh. This was the tipping point for the Congress.
Counsellor Prashant Kishor, bidding to make a reputation of winning elections, was a perfectly suited match for the desperate Congress promising the moon to the hungry electorate; farm loan waivers, jobs and unemployment allowance, reservation of girls in government jobs and such others made a part of a dream list that became its election manifesto. It will haunt the party in the years to come.
As part of the election campaign strategy Congress made people register for jobs and loan waiver, making it an instant hit with the masses. However, without doubt, it is easier to explain the past than predict an electoral outcome.