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Is the AAP a Game Changer in Punjab?

Aam Admi Party (AAP) party leader Arvind Kejriwal (C) poses at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 3, 2014. Kejriwal and AAP Members of Parliament are in the city to attend meetings with party members in the state. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU | Photo Credit: NARINDER NANU

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.

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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).

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