In a historic mandate Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won 92 out of 117 Assembly seats in the state.
AAP's victory comes at a huge expense of the Congress party which went from 77 seats in 2017 to just 18 in 2022. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) managed only 3 seats.
Largely referred to as a 'startup' in India's political landscape, the victory in Punjab will be a first for AAP outside its home territory of Delhi. Coming on the heels of the year-long farmers' protest, the party's performance is also expected to give a massive boost to its ambitions of becoming BJP's national alternative.
At this point, it is pertinent to look at the 5 major factors which led to AAP's resounding success in Punjab.
1. Anti-Incumbency Against Traditional Players in State Politics
Punjab politics has traditionally been dominated by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being a junior partner in the alliance with SAD. These three parties have together government the state since its reorganisation in 1966.
Since then, even as the government changed hands, issues like substance abuse, power and agricultural crisis, sacrilege, remained constant. This gave rise to anti-incumbency not just against the ruling Congress party but also against the Akali Dal.
The BJP, on the other hand, is massively unpopular, thanks to the year-long farmers' protest and Punjab's rejection of communal polarisation.
This made AAP the obvious alternative for voters who were looking for a change and shift in the state's politics making this a multi-party contest — a first for Punjab.
2. Clear Messaging And Controlled Narrative
Unlike other parties in the fray, AAP appeared to be in control of the election narrative right from the beginning.
From setting clear election agenda focused on unemployment, agricultural crisis, inflation, and COVID mismanagement to running focused campaigns first in the name of Arvind Kejriwal and then Bhagwant Mann, the party ran a targeted campaign for different demographics of voters.
There was clear messaging for youth as they promised employment, for women with welfare schemes, and for farmers with agri reforms.
3. Exporting The Delhi Model To Punjab
One of the biggest reasons behind AAP's thumping victory is the curiosity of the people of Punjab around the Delhi model of governance — one based on civic issues.
On the ground, there is a demand for improved healthcare infrastructure, education, and more job opportunities. Especially in villages people seemed tired of outbound migration to foreign countries and squarely blamed the government for not generating enough employment for youth.
During The Quint's election coverage, this reporter went to several villages in Malwa's Sangrur district where voters between the age of 40-55 said that their villages only have the old and the ageing as the young moved out due to lack of job opportunities.
This created space for the AAP to promote and bank on its policies of free electricity, free water, job creation, and healthcare.
4. Bhagwant Mann's Popularity
In 2017 when the Aam Aadmi Party contested the assembly elections and finished at number two position, several analysts pointed out that they ventured into the battlefield without a popular face at the front.
Kejriwal's party, however, learnt it lessons this time around. Bhagwant Mann, a popular Sikh face, and party's Lok Sabha MP from Sangrur was declared as the chief ministerial face in January — only a month before the state went to vote.
Mann was attacked by his opponent, including Charanjit Singh Channi, who labelled him an "alcoholic" and ridiculed him for being a comedian. This, however, seemed to work in favour of an already popular Bhagwant Mann who ran a positive campaign as opposed to the negative campaign targeted at him.
Mann's elevation as the CM face also drew a clear distinction between the AAP and its prime opposition, the Congress party. While AAP, on one hand, appeared to be in complete control of the situation, Congress seemed rather rudderless with Charanjit Singh Channi, Navjot Singh Sidhu, and Sunil Jakhar constantly taking jibes at each other amid reports of each them eyeing the top post.
5. Complete Coordination Between Delhi and Punjab Units
This can be viewed as another point of distinction between the Congress and the AAP. From the stepping down of Captain Amarinder Singh in September 2021 to the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister soon after, and him being declared as the party's CM face only days ahead of the polls, the Congress high-command appeared to be confused.
The AAP, on the contrary, showed complete coordination between the Delhi and the Punjab unit.