Cross LoC Surgical Strikes Won’t Echo Among Punjab Voters in 2017
The Uri attack and subsequent retaliation by the Indian forces across the LoC has led to an interesting turn of events in election-bound Punjab. The Akali-BJP combine which is facing strong anti-incumbency is claiming credit for the decisive action and hopes to gain some lost ground.
Punjab shares its borders with Pakistan and is strategically important from security point of view. In this context, the people of the state will now have to think twice before voting for a regional party which has no stated policy on Pakistan.
AAP Emerged as a Third Front in Punjab
AAP bagged four seats and secured nearly one-fourth of the total votes polled. 13 percent of traditional Congress supporters and 17 percent of SAD-BJP supporters voted for AAP (according to the CSDS). AAP benefited from the double anti-incumbency – anger against the Congress-led UPA government as well as the frustration against the SAD-BJP government in the state.
However, events in the past few months along with the recent Uri episode seems to have given a blow to the lead of AAP. In this post, we enlist five factors why AAP may not be able to win Punjab elections.
1) Uri Factor in Punjab
In the aftermath of India’s surgical strikes across the LoC, the border villages have been evacuated across 16 assembly segments spread over 6 districts (14 percent of total seats). The Akali-BJP government is claiming credit for the bold step and even creating a warlike fervour as is being alleged by Congress. This may benefit the incumbent government if displacement is taken care of and the people are well rehabilitated.
Congress is aware of this threat as 16 seats in a predominantly triangular contest holds electoral significance. It would want to play up the discontent with a section of people unhappy with the relocation. Amarinder Singh has alleged that the Akalis for creating panic among the villagers and there is no warlike situation yet.
2) AAP's Abysmal Track Record in Delhi
Delhi is suffering from a massive outbreak of chikungunya and dengue. The absence of ministers of the AAP government including top men Kejriwal and Sisodia from the scene only worsened the matters.
The performance of the AAP government in Delhi creates uncertainty in the minds of an average voter in Punjab who is already reeling from slow economic growth and drug issues. They would have reaped rich dividends had the party seized the opportunity – that of developing Delhi as a model state – and then gone around asking for votes on the basis of its performance.
3) Absence of a Chief Ministerial Candidate
While Congress and SAD have more or less announced their CM candidate, AAP is still juggling with the question of who would lead the party in Punjab in 2017. All the surveys done in Punjab have so far shown Kejriwal as the preferred candidate. The party does not have a strong candidate other than Kejriwal, and this could turn away the swing voters who may prefer the comfort of familiar leaders like Capt Amarinder and Badal. Kejriwal being a non-Sikh also doesn’t help his cause in a state which has always elected CMs from the community.
All the four MPs of AAP from Punjab had won from the Malwa region. Malwa accounts for 69 out of 117 seats and in the remaining 48 seats of Doaba and Majha, it has either no or limited presence. While Malwa is very important and only once has a CM of Punjab been from a region other than Malwa, two of its four MPs from that region have been suspended. The suspension may create some uncertainty among voters who had voted for AAP in 2014.
4) Congress Well-Prepared
On the other hand, there seems to be greater unity within the Congress party in terms of their CM candidate. When asked to name the best chief minister in the past 20 years, 40 percent vouched for Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh (C-Voter poll). The party has also managed to enthuse workers on the ground. Of course, it does not imply that they will win Punjab but it sends out a message to the voters that they are better prepared than AAP to govern Punjab and thus, may win many of the anti-incumbent votes.
5) Split in Anti-Incumbency Votes
The contest which was predominantly bipolar has become triangular between SAD, Congress and AAP. Sidhu’s front would also support either AAP or Congress (though it’s still not clear). Additionally, the BSP has been traditionally getting 4 to 5 percent vote share in the state as Dalits account for 32 percent population of the state.
The recent anti-Dalit events in Una and the rest of India may further consolidate the Dalit votes in favour of Mayawati.
Uphill Task Ahead for AAP
While the party has done some good work in Delhi in terms of water, electricity, reducing corruption, mohalla clinics, its constant tussle with LG and playing the victim card blaming the Centre for all the woes of Delhi doesn’t work anymore. People are fed up with its rhetoric.
That said, with a gap of 10 percent points in most surveys, the party can still clean up its act by carrying out a variety of interventions in Delhi, in appointing a CM candidate in Punjab and re-organisng the party machinery in Punjab. It should also specify its Pakistan policy and convince voters that it can work in sync with the central government on security issues. Whether AAP is capable of bringing about this change will determine whether the party can eventually win in Punjab.
(This article has been co-authored by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra. They are independent political commentators and can be reached at @politicalbaaba and @schandra_100 respectively. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)