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Jagrup Singh Sekhon

Jagrup Singh Sekhon is professor of Political Science at Gurunanak Dev University. He is also a key member of the Lokniti survey team in Punjab.

Is the AAP a Game Changer in Punjab?

Jagrup Singh Sekhon
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The Aam Admi Party has been able to make its presence felt in Punjab. Photo: The Hindu
The Aam Admi Party has been able to make its presence felt in Punjab. Photo: The Hindu

Despite a lack of resources and party structure, the Aam Aadmi Party’s impressive entry into Punjab politics was because they raised issues that are of importance to the people, breaking the hold of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance and the Congress, says Jagrup Singh Sekhon , analysing data from a Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey conducted in Punjab.

Despite the emergence and exit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from New Delhi’s political landscape, the party has come to the centre stage in Punjab by successfully projecting itself as a party with a difference. The Delhi government’s filing of corruption cases against industrialist and politicians during the AAP’s short tenure has raised a ray of hope that the rule of law can be implemented if there is strong political will.

The bigger question before us is this – how has the AAP intervened in Punjab politics in the recently concluded parliamentary elections? Though these are still early days, the overwhelming response of the people to the party shows that it has succeeded in capturing the imagination of the people across classes and castes in the State by taking some preliminary steps. One, it fielded good candidates vis-a-vis other political parties. The list included leading human rights activists, celebrities, known public faces, and respected political personalities. Prominent among these are renowned ophthalmic surgeon Daljit Singh (Amritsar), cardiologist and human rights activist Dharmvira Gandhi (Patiala), Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur), a young, western educated lawyer, Himmat Singh Shergill (Anandpur Sahib), a retired college teacher and poet, Sadhu Singh (Faridkot), a known advocate of the Supreme Court and human rights activist, H.S. Phoolka, (Ludhiana), and a visiting professor of religion at Guru Nanak Dev University, Bhai Baleep Singh (Khadoor Sahib).

Suchche Singh Chottepur (Gurdaspur) is one of the most respected politicians among the present day generation of political leaders in the State. Women candidates fielded included Jyoti Maan, a school teacher, and Yamini Gomar, a social worker, from Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur (both reserved constituencies). These candidates were selected through a rigorous interview process which elicited information from the candidates on the five C’s, i.e., criminality, caste, communalism, corruption and character. They were asked to submit an affidavit of dos and don’ts as per the ideology of the AAP – along with a list of at least 100 signatures of the voters from each Assembly segment in their Parliamentary constituency. The candidates were also asked to give in writing their agenda of work if elected.

Second, the party has focused on issues that are very close to the heart of the people in Punjab. The focus in the campaign was on the menace of drugs, corruption, skyrocketing prices of sand and gravel, monopoly in the manufacturing, sale and distribution of liquor, cable television transmission, transport operations and political goondagardi (bullying tactics) of the ruling class in the State. The prominent leaders of the AAP publically named the important members of the ruling party who are involved in the above mentioned issues. The party also threw the spotlight on the agrarian crisis, suicides of farmers and the marginalisation of small and poor peasantry in the State.

Third, the AAP concentrated on all the parliamentary segments despite various handicaps including the absence of any party structure, and a lack of human and financial resources. This was also to give a clear message to the people that the party would keep an equal distance from the other political parties in the State. Though the top leaders of the party, Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, could not visit all Parliamentary constituencies, the State unit managed a few prominent personalities and celebrities including musician Rabby Shergill and actor Gul Panag among others to address some small rallies or road shows in the remaining constituencies to attract voters towards AAP candidates.

Performance of the AAP in the 2014 Parliamentary Elections

The AAP made an impressive entry into Punjab politics by winning four seats in the Malwa region. This victory has initiated a new political process by breaking the hold of two political forces i.e. the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance and the Congress. The real benefit of an anti-incumbency wave against the State and central government was reaped by the AAP in these elections. The party has also succeeded in checking the ‘Modi Wave’ by getting a huge number of votes in almost all the constituencies in the State. Compared with 2009 when 69.7 per cent of votes were polled, in these recent elections 70.9 per cent of votes have been polled.

The worthy achievement of the AAP is to win four seats in the Malwa region of Punjab. In Malwa one of its candidates, Bhagwant Maan, defeated an Akali stalwart and sitting member of the Rajya Sabha Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa with a high margin of more than 2.11 lakh votes in the Sangrur seat. Another AAP candidate from Faridkot, Prof. Sadhu Singh, defeated his nearest rival SAD candidate Paramjit Kaur Gulshan with a margin of more than 1.7 lakh votes. The performance of the AAP candidates was far better than the expectations of the political pundits in the State. H.S. Phoolka the AAP’s candidate from Ludhiana, lost to the Congress candidate Ravneet Singh Bittoo by a margin of less than 20,000 votes.

The overall performance of the AAP in Punjab has made it a formidable force in the traditional bi-polar politics of the State. The vote share of the AAP is less than 2 percentage points than that of the SAD, while in terms of the number of seats won, the new party is at a par with it at four seats each. The Congress could get only three seats, though its vote share was the highest (33.1 per cent) among all the political parties. The performance of the AAP can be gauged from the fact that it stood second in Ludhiana and was at third position on all the remaining seats in Punjab. The party has succeeded in taking advantage of the anti- incumbency wave of both central and State governments by giving an alternative choice to the people. The overall performance of the party hit both political parties. It is being said that the victory of the Congress candidate in Jalandhar is because the AAP candidate got more than two lakh votes, which apparently contributed to the defeat of the SAD candidate. On the other hand, the AAP candidate from the high profile seat of Bhatinda became instrumental in the loss of the Congress’s Manpreet Badal, who lost to his sister-in-law by a narrow margin of 19,000 votes. The AAP candidate secured more than 87,000 votes in this constituency.

Issue of Anti-incumbency

The anti-incumbency wave against the State government was high on account of various issues. A few need to be mentioned. The issues that dominated the elections were drug menace in the State, farmer suicides, sky-rocketing prices of sand and gravel, corruption, goondagardi and arrogance of the low- level cadre of the ruling alliance. Further issues included monopoly over the transport and liquor trades, the recently levied property tax in the cities, revenue and other departments, and increasing lawlessness and insecurity of women in the State. The other important issue of more than half-a-million employees was that they received their arrears of salaries for four to five months just before the elections.

In a post-poll survey conducted in Punjab from May 1-6 by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), it was found that about 58.7 per cent of the total respondents were of the view that the SAD-BJP government has totally failed in curbing the menace of drugs in Punjab while only eight per cent were found to disagree.

On the issue of the safety of women in Punjab, a total of 45 per cent of the total respondents were of the view that the safety and security of women has deteriorated in the last five years while only 16 per cent stated that it had improved.

Price rise, corruption and unemployment were the other major issues. A total of 27 per cent of the respondents singled out price rise as the most important issue while 17.6 per cent opted for corruption. 11.2 per cent of the respondents underlined unemployment as the most important issue.

The suicides of farmers in the Malwa belt were another serious factor in the elections. A total of 44 per cent of the total respondents were of the opinion that the SAD-BJP government had failed in controlling the rate of farmers’ suicides in Punjab.

Preference for the AAP in Punjab

The advantage gained by the AAP became possible because it was ahead of other parties in raising the issues and problems that were considered the most important in these elections. A total of 20.6 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that the AAP has raised the issues and problems they consider the most important followed by 19.9 per cent of the respondents who named the Congress. Only 11.5 per cent of the respondents stated that the SAD has also raised these issues in the elections.

Kejriwal was the choice of 15.6 per cent of all the respondents followed by Rahul Gandhi (12.3 per cent) and Narendra Modi (9.6 per cent). He also maintained a lead over other leaders in terms of reliability and trustworthiness, as 16.8 per cent of the total respondents believed him to be trustworthy and reliable, followed by Rahul Gandhi (11.5 per cent) and Narendra Modi (9.3 per cent)

On the issue of better administration in the State, a total of 26.5 per cent of the respondents supported the Congress party, followed by the AAP (21 per cent), SAD (15.5 per cent) and BJP (11 per cent).

On the issue of addressing women’s empowerment, Kejriwal was ahead of other national leaders; 15.7 per cent respondents thought that he would be the best to address this issue followed by Rahul Gandhi (10.2 per cent) and Narendra Modi (9.9 per cent). On the issue of controlling price rise, a total of 18.7 per cent of the respondents rated Kejriwal as the best suited to address the issue, followed by Narendra Modi (14 per cent) and Rahul Gandhi (11.7 per cent).

A total of 49.1 per cent of the total voters agreed that the AAP in Punjab had succeeded in raising the issues concerning them, but 22.3 per cent did not agree. The remaining 28.5 per cent remained silent on this issue.

On the issue of controlling corruption, a total of 22.8 per cent respondents thought that Kejriwal would be the best to address the issue of corruption followed by Rahul Gandhi (12.6 per cent) and Narendra Modi (12.4 per cent).

On the issue of national security, 16.3 per cent of the total voters thought that Kejriwal would be the best to address the issue of national security, followed by Narendra Modi (13.1 per cent) and Rahul Gandhi (12.1 per cent).

(Jagrup Singh Sekhon is professor of Political Science at Gurunanak Dev University. He is also a key member of the Lokniti survey team in Punjab.)

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The writer has presented very good account of electoral performance of main political parties in the Punjab using the CSDS data and supplementing it with data from Election Commission of India. He traces reasons of AAP's spectacular victory in Punjab by detailing the issues raised by the AAP in the context of Punjab. He aptly says that AAP capitalized on anti-incumbency anger against both the Centre as well as State governments. The tables used are quite illustrative.

from:  Nirmal Singh
Posted on: Jul 21, 2014 at 15:59 IST

Great start for AAP into Lok Sabha. I am sure the four gems sent by the people of Punjab to Lok Sabha will do them proud. As long as the intention is to work for the people's problems, AAP will surely succeed. Their USP is their honesty and readiness to fight for people's rights. Keep that going and rest everything will fall into place.

from:  Avi
Posted on: Jun 27, 2014 at 18:38 IST

In any case, the AAP will will surely get a chance in most of the northern states in future, based on the corruption issue, the right to recall, powers to the Central Vigilance Commission, and the Central Bureau of Investigation, among others. Only, they had to project the right candidates not to complicate things and vision.

from:  raj
Posted on: Jun 15, 2014 at 15:55 IST

The MPs who won from Punjab on the AAP ticket were on their own during the campaign, and Arvind Kejriwal or his top leaders did nothing to help them. They highlighted the failures of the governments, and promised a better future. Now that they have succeeded, Kejriwal is hijacking their success.

from:  arackal narayanapillai
Posted on: Jun 15, 2014 at 14:10 IST

AAP's victory in Punjab, with four Lok Sabha seats, after Kejeriwal's resignation as Chief Minister of Delhi, give credence to the party as a viable opposition to the Congress and the BJP. The hard-earned seats in Punjab gives them the confidence of party's well wishers. The anger against Shiromani Akali Dhal-BJP alliance, which is ruling the State, made things easy for the AAP. Now they have to work as a single sustainable unit across the country. Since existing main stream parties are almost fully corrupted, people still decipher the AAP as noble contenders since they are dead against any sort of corruption. If the AAP is more serious in the political spectrum, show wisdom and common sense in dealing with general issues, bury their differences, and work as a collective entity, they can secure many seats in the rest of the country. People want action and not tall promises.

from:  varijakshan edakkazhiyoor
Posted on: Jun 15, 2014 at 13:20 IST

AAP won more votes in the urban areas and as expected, and failed to make inroads into the rural ares, where people are hardly informed about the changing times and they go by their outdated prejudices while voting. It has always been in the agenda of established parties not to allow education and self-reliance to spread to the villages. Though central leaders sometimes speak differently, local leaders always ensure this.

from:  kkg
Posted on: Jun 15, 2014 at 10:45 IST

I cannot believe the voting pattern mentioned herein. AAP should have run the Delhi Government. The government should fight for its rights within the existing parameters. Not by resigning. Great disappointment for people who voted for them.

from:  J Venkat
Posted on: Jun 13, 2014 at 16:33 IST

I feel this Sikh Community wish to see a Government in the State, which upholds the teachings of Guru Nanak, and the Grant Sahib. Good governance and justice for all, and true worth of the labour they put into what ever work they do, is what the Sikhs pride themselves on. AAP was elected, in keeping with these principles.

from:  Sushil Kumar
Posted on: Jun 13, 2014 at 12:28 IST

The truth is Punjabis have hatred towards Congress for its attack on temple and the anti-Sikh riots and dislike for BJP for its Hinudtva which they consider impinging on their religion. All other factors are minor.

from:  Nasar
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 20:17 IST

Things do happen by fluke. BJP's win can be termed as fluke. It won only two seats at one point in the past.

from:  Laxma
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 18:11 IST

Now that the people of Punjab have reposed their faith in the AAP in the Loksabha elections, I am sure this trend will continue, and it should surprise none if the AAP wins the next assembly elections there with the absolute majority and forms its government. The fact that the AAP leaders are honest, talented, committed and service-oriented, is well-known.

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 16:28 IST

It is better that The Hindu brings out a more useful article by say, analyzing as to why Kejriwal ran away from responsibilities, what he did to resolve power crisis in Delhi when he had an opportunity. What AAP and Kejriwal did is similar to what Mohammad Bin Tughlak did during his rein in Delhi.

from:  simhan
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 15:17 IST

That AAP should get a chance in any case, is the responsibility of the common man. We should strengthen the hands of Arvind Kejriwal to get rid of the present political structure. Everyone in the present political structure, whether Congress, BJP or any other party are unitedly working against the AAP with the aim that once Arvind gets in, their role will go to zero.

from:  Afzal Naqash
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 14:07 IST

His intentions are now clear. He just want power and limelight. No approach or direction can be seen, nor any efforts to change the society as a whole, the aim with which AAP started. A lot could have been done even without the police force in hand and even without money from the central government in Delhi. Issues like cleanliness, timely and orderly government officers, regulations regarding environment were several issues which neither required money nor police force, but administration and intention. They haven't showed that. They just showed anarchy and their ego. His actions and intentions have turned many absolute supporters into critics. I am one of them. I think he is a culprit of killing the hard earned "fire for change in India" to fulfill his ego.

from:  Anchal Goyal
Posted on: Jun 12, 2014 at 13:05 IST

Winning four seats in Punjab by AAP is just fluke. The day is not far off when, like other disgruntled leaders, the four MPs from Punjab may also feel marginalised and dissatisfied, and then will they do the needful???

from:  R Kapoor
Posted on: Jun 10, 2014 at 17:19 IST
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