‘Punjab Will Reclaim Its Glory Under AAP Leadership’

Anu Mann, an AAP supporter in Chandigarh, says the party leaders are grounded and have a connect with the people, unlike its erstwhile rulers

At 54 years of age, my generation has grown up with Punjab. I have witnessed Punjab at its peak during the Green Revolution and then at its lowest during the turbulent 80s. Things started looking somewhat bright during the 1990s but by mid-2000s they took a turn for the worse again.

From being the breadbasket of the country, we the Punjabis gradually began losing our identity as a prosperous state to ‘Udta Punjab’. Drug abuse began taking hold in almost every family. Villages after village lost their youth and men to the drug menace with women left behind to pick up the pieces, industries slowed down, corruption rose up, education took a hit, and Punjabis began leaving for greener pastures like Canada.

With Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral sweep, a hope has been rekindled that we have turned the corner. Punjab will reclaim its glory; we shall flourish again.

Personally, I feel liberated. I have travelled and lived around the country, but one always wants to come back to the roots. I used to feel sad at the sheer level of corruption, lack of jobs and good education, the lazy leadership, especially that of Captain Amarinder Singh who never mingled much with people. Sidhu has been and remains a crass leader.

Mann says she has grown up with Punjab and seen both its low point and high point

I had given up all hopes of a good leadership taking root in Punjab until AAP brought in its refreshing governance style. Of course the road for the Bhagwant Mann-led government is going to be long and difficult but given how they have managed Delhi, I have high hopes for Punjab in the coming years. I have myself worked at a summer teaching programme of AAP in Delhi government schools and I was impressed how AAP involves ordinary people in their governance apparatus.

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This election result saw seasoned political personalities humiliated by common, first-time contestants (like mobile shop owner Labh Singh who defeated Channi). I feel the happiest about the victory of Jeevan Jyot Kaur who defeated Majithia and Navjot Sidhu because women’s issues will now get the spotlight. There are 13 doctors who have been elected as MLAs; they will definitely feel the pulse of the people, both literally and metaphorically.

Bhagwant Mann’s passionate involvement, unlike Amarinder Singh’s ivory tower life, in everyday matters of the state is a refreshing change. AAP ke sare candidates dharti se jude hue log hain, samaj se jude hue log hain (AAP leaders have an ear to the ground, they have a connect with the masses).

All in all, the victory of AAP in Punjab is truly the victory of ordinary people. AAP’s campaigning was also totally fuss-free, they neither disturbed nor bribed voters, maybe other parties would do well to learn from them.

Mann in a celebratory mood after AAP victory

I was so happy and excited on the day of election results that I distributed mithais, made a celebratory dance video and sent it to my loved ones. And I couldn’t stop talking to my friends about how happy I was. Mann needs a lot of cooperation from people and I hope the janta will give it to him.

Three Quick Takeaways From Assembly Poll Results

If you distil down the results of the five states that held assembly elections recently, there are three conclusions that could describe them best. These three facts are what will shape the future of politics and governance in India. The same three conclusions will also impact the future of three political parties.

First, it is the unabated surge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Winning Uttar Pradesh decisively by getting 255 of the 403 seats and, thus, retaining India’s most populous state does two things. It underlines how strong the party is in the northern belt, which in turn could be a pointer to its fortunes when parliamentary elections are held in 2024. It also silences critics who thought that the stock of UP’s hardliner chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, was falling. Already speculation has begun on whether Adityanath, 49, could succeed Narendra Modi, 71, as Prime Minister in the coming years.

There was a time before 2014 that many people ruled out that Modi (whose tenure as chief minister of Gujarat was controversial) could become India’s Prime Minister. As it happened, the doubters were put paid and Modi’s popularity continues to soar. Could Adityanath be waiting in the wings to succeed him? In Indian politics, as they say, anything can happen.

The second conclusion is the spectacular surge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). There is possibly no precedent to what the party, led by Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, has pulled off by winning Punjab. No small regional party such as AAP has done that before. AAP won 92 of the 177 seats in Punjab, thereby reducing the traditional contenders — Shiromani Akali Dal, BJP, and Congress — to mere also rans. This has many ramifications.

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It establishes that small regional parties, if they play their strategies well, can expand to other regions outside their strongholds and can prove to be formidable opponents to bigger traditional parties in their own bastion. AAP’s victory in Punjab does just that but it also catapults the party and its leader Kejriwal to the central stage. AAP will now be a force to contend with and we ought not to be surprised if prominent leaders from parties such as the Congress leave to join the AAP.

The third and least surprising conclusion is the complete rout of the Congress party, a political organisation that once reigned supreme in the country. Indeed, looking at the party’s current state, it is difficult to believe that it had ever been so strong, powerful, and at the top of India’s political pack. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress won just two seats of the 403; in Punjab it managed 18; in Goa 11 (the BJP won 20) of the 40; in Uttarakhand 19 (BJP won 47) out of 70; and in Manipur it got five (BJP won 32) of the 60 seats. The writing on the wall is clear.

The Congress, run by the Gandhi family, is facing a serious leadership crisis. This has not only meant that that the party is rudderless but it has continued to be dynastic — Rahul Gandhi, the reluctant heir to his mother and the party’s current head, Sonia Gandhi, has proved himself to be a failure several times over and yet the party’s leaders do not try to infuse new blood or revamp the way the party is run. By the time 2024 rolls in and the Lok Sabha elections are held, the Congress could get diminished even further. Its fate in the recent five-state assembly polls shows that clearly.

Who Will Win Punjab?

Past record shows that the outcome of the Municipal Corporation elections in Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab, has no impact on the Assembly elections which follow a little later in the state.

This time, however, there is an important takeaway from the Corporation elections held a couple of months before the Assembly elections in Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerged as the largest party for the first time in any elections outside Delhi. The party, which is making a determined attempt to wrest power in Punjab, has received a major boost with its cadres gaining confidence that it can win elections outside the national capital.

Another important factor in the Corporation elections was the multiplicity of contests. Besides the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, the AAP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, a large number of independents in the fray had made it a multi-cornered contest with comparatively small number of electors in each ward. In at least five wards the margin of victory was only in double digits.

The coming elections in Punjab too are set to be multi-cornered contests with the emergence of the alliance between Capt Amarinder Singh and BJP, the SAD-BSP alliance, the Congress, the AAP and now also the Kisan Samaj Morcha formed by farmers’ organisations, besides the independents. The current possibility of five-cornered contests would definitely leave the field wide open with various parties eating into each other’s vote banks and making the task of predicting the outcome a near impossibility.

It is in this context that an analysis of the past electoral trends would be significant and relevant to the ensuing elections.

For over three decades, the state had witnessed a straight contest between the SAD and the Congress. This changed last time when the AAP entered the fray and changed the political equations. Several electoral surveys had predicted an AAP victory given the disenchantment with the other two political parties.

The Congress emerged victorious with a thumping majority of 77 seats out of a total of 117 at stake thanks to a large extent to the division of votes in the three-cornered contest. SAD won 15 seats (besides three by its alliance partner BJP) against the tally of 20 for the AAP and two for its alliance partner. But what’s significant is that the SAD finished second in no less than 43 seats while AAP finished second only in 26 seats. Akalis got lesser number of seats than AAP but received more votes.

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SAD got 25.3 per cent of the total votes polled as against AAP’s 23.8 per cent. Add to that the 5.4 per cent votes polled by the then SAD’s alliance partner, the BJP. They together polled 37 per cent votes against 38.5 per cent by Congress. Akalis contested on 94 seats compared to 112 by AAP and still got 1.5 per cent higher vote share than AAP. Same is true for Congress. Both in 2007 and 2012 when it lost elections to the SAD-BJP combine, Congress posted a vote share of over 40 per cent.

It is in this context that the pre-poll scenario needs to be analysed with five-cornered contests on the anvil. The ruling Congress, which rocked its own boat by changing the chief minister just six months before the elections, is facing an internal crisis. Its unpredictable state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu continues to take pot-shots at the party’s own government and chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi.

In the given short time the new chief minister is coming out with a flurry of announcements which lack credibility while some of the sitting legislators are quitting the party anticipating denial of tickets. Even as the 56-member election committee supposed to send its recommendations to the party high command for final selection of candidates is yet to meet, Sidhu has been declaring candidates for some of the seats. The party is also yet to develop a strategy for the elections.

SAD, which had quit the coalition with BJP over the farm laws, has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose vote share has been less than two per cent even though one third of the state’s voters belong to the Dalit Samaj. However, Akalis are by far the first movers.

Party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has been actively leading the party and besides the alliance with the BSP, has already declared candidates for the ensuing elections. It is also attempting to woo back its core constituency of rural votes by touting that it has quit the coalition and power to stand behind the farmers. The party is not facing any major hostility from farmers now and its fate would depend on how rural voters view its role in the aftermath of the farm laws which were subsequently withdrawn.

AAP, which had built up a strong cadre before the last elections, lost some ground with several leaders quitting the party and the state unit of the party remaining disoriented over the last four years. It has received a fillip after the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections but continues to remain under the direct charge of its central leaders. It’s biggest failing has been a lack of a credible chief ministerial face. With just over a month left for the elections, the party chief Arvind Kejriwal has decided to maintain silence over the issue although he has declared that the candidate would be a Sikh from Punjab. This effectively ruled himself out of the race as was being apprehended last time.

The new entrant to the political scenario, the Kisan Samaj Party, might turn out to be the X factor in the coming elections. About 22 of the farmers organisations have joined hands to form the party but at least 10 others have decided to stay away. On its own, the new party is unlikely to make a serious dent but it can change the calculations if it decides to tie up with one of the major parties. And if it happens with AAP, which has a strong presence in urban areas, it would be a strong alliance to be reckoned with.

Even as the model code of conduct is to come into force any day now and schedule is to be announced for elections next month, the political situation remains fluid with new alignments in the making and finalisation of party tickets setting the tone for the elections.

‘Sidhu Has Harmed His Party, He Is A Bad Team Leader’

Dr Bhojdev Brar (22) from Amritsar says celebrities do not always make good politicians and all the good work by Navjot Singh Sidhu was undone by his image politics

Punjab politics is going through such confusing times, I wonder how things will shape up in the next few months when Punjab Assembly elections are held. I belong to Amritsar, the constituency of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is slowly turning out to be one of the most divisive figures of Punjab politics.

I feel he is eyeing the Chief Minister’s seat in the strategic state as in these important times (because of farmer protests). But the way he is going about it doesn’t seem very well thought out. He seems temperamental, hasty in decision making and someone who doesn’t think too well before taking a step. Soon after he resigned, another minister from the Charanpreet Singh Channi cabinet, Razia Sultana, Punjab Congress General Secretary Yoginder Dhingra and party treasurer Gulzar Inder Chahal also resigned from the party. This then becomes more about a person and less about the interests of the party.

I don’t think image politics can influence the electorate deeply if there is no weight behind their words. These celebrities or personalities cannot just bank on their image or previous charisma to get votes, they need to keep interacting with the people who voted for them and upgrade their understanding. There are so many celebrities who are good at what they do, but aren’t able to walk the long road in politics.

Metro Man, Mr E Sreedharan can be considered an example. Sidhu has walked a longer and more active road than most other celebs (17 years in active politics), but I feel he still doesn’t know the art of walking in unison with others, he still considers himself above the party.

Dr Brar with farmer leader Rakesh Tikait (left) and with Dr Swaiman Singh (extreme right in green), a New Jersey-based cardiologist who came to India to support farmers protesting agaisnt Central farm laws

And in times like these, especially in the post-Covid world, we need compassionate, considerate and calm leaders; leaders who have the capacity to listen to people’s concerns as much as they can speak. Covid has shown us how each leader is important right from the ward level to the Prime Minister level and we can’t be lax with who we choose to power.

Sidhu has done some good work in Amritsar like building road, strengthening the metro bus service, but he should also look into important matters like reducing corruption at all levels, strengthening the administrative machinery and easing governance in general so that people find it easy to approach the government on important matters.

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Moreover, I feel surprised why doesn’t he stand secure in his own identity? Why is trying to pit himself as an alternative to Captain Amarinder Singh? He should focus more on what is being and not being done in his own constituency rather than galloping off to Patiala, the constituency of Captain Singh.

If many people say that Captain Singh is growing old, then the ex-Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh led the country efficiently even at an advanced age, an Sidhu is probably showing the folly of youth. Punjab needs leaders who are cool, calm, composed and yet not afraid to take the lead, if the situation so demands.

I am keeping a keen eye on the news developments and in these times of social media boom, celebs image can fall down as quickly as they can be built. So people should be careful about each step in politics. They should aim at serving the public and not their image.