Image Credits: IndiaTV News
In 1783, Baghel Singh and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia galvanized a Sikh force and marched to the Red Fort hoisting the Nishan Sahib as a symbol of their victory over the Mughals. This was the battle for Delhi between the Sikh Khalsa and the Mughals leading to the decline of th empire thereafter. Fast-forward to 2021, farmers protesting against the government’s new farm laws marched to the Red Fort. Mostly coming from Punjab and Haryana, the farmers group hoisted the Nishan Sahib on the red fort, romanticizing and taking inspiration from 1783 as the Central government had apparently turned a deaf ear to their demands.
Politically-speaking, Delhi being a strong-hold of Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) finds
support for its welfare schemes among the marginalized; middle class; religious minorities
such as Sikhs and others; and women. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has found grassroot support through election victories in far-flung states such as Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, adjoining Uttar Pradesh and also Punjab. This can be seen at municipal and panchayat levels as well. A case and point is Gujarat where major cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot have given 6.99 percent, 28.47 percent and 17.4 percent votes respectively to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
A Victory for AAP in Punjab State Elections 2022 is a Certainty
A random survey-based on ad-hoc interviews in select pockets of Delhi NCR revealed that
positive feedback to residents/prospective voters of Punjab enabled Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to establish a foothold in Punjab in 2014 general elections. Aam Aadmi Party got 4 Members of Parliament (MPs) in Lok Sabha from Punjab which was probably not anticipated by them or any of the experienced pollsters.
The table above is the pre-poll analysis of 2014 general election specific to Punjab.
Growing from strength to strength after a huge victory in Delhi elections winning 67 out 70 seats decimating the opposition, it went on to become the largest opposition party in Punjab in the year 2017 winning 20 out of 117 seats.
In the General Elections of 2019, AAP managed to keep 1 out of 4 seats in Punjab. Since
2019, Aam Aadmi Party has taken several steps beneficial to them in winning the state of
Supporting abrogation of Article 370
The Modi government on August 5 th 2019 abrogated Article 370 from the Indian constitution, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was one of the first opposition parties to come in support of the government's decision while the main opposition party, Congress, remained divided on the issue. It is a known fact that majority of Indians believe that Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was unfair and against nationalistic principles and against an equal federal structure. Aam Aadmi Party with its decision to support the government on the matter gained popularity among many voters across the country.
Farmer’s Protest Response
AAP MP Sanjay Singh in Rajya Sabha said, “The government is taking such harsh action against the protesting farmers that even Hitler has failed in front of the Centre government.” In Delhi Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal tore the farms laws
and in harsh words spoke against the government. A member of the Shiromani Akali Dal
(SAD) and minister in Modi’s cabinet, Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from her minister’s
office while SAD party workers were protesting outside Parliament over the farm laws. On
one hand, AAP’s and SAD’s response was quick, swift and aggressive, the Congress, on the other hand, faced backlash for introducing the bill in Parliament in the first place when they were in power.
In November-December 2020, when the farmer's protest was at its peak and was being covered by national and international media, we saw the AAP government in Delhi providing shelter, food, and medical facilities to farmers at the protest site. AAP MLAs made regular visits to the protest site. Chief Minister of Delhi and Convener of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Arvind Kejriwal himself visited the site on 7th December 2020 and said, “I am here as a volunteer, not Chief Minister.” His statement struck a chord with the farmers, and people of Punjab.
Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh’s response was rather passive and
unsympathetic compared to that of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party
(AAP). Before the farmer's protest, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s popularity was unmatched. His statement to the press asking farmers to go protest in Delhi or Haryana
instead of Punjab caused a dip in his popularity. The farmer’s protests in Punjab were taking
place in 113 districts, and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh focused on the economic impact on the state and said “not all farmers are protesting in favour of the state.” While he supported the movement, passed a resolution to dilute its impact on the state and even spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally, his empathetic response was too late.
Infighting within Congress
The infighting within Punjab Congress has been a known fact ever since they won the
election in 2017. In April 2021, Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) report mandated to probe the sacrilege matter. The sacrilege matter refers to Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura firing cases. In 2015, a number of instances of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib took place at Bargari in Faridkot district. Thousands of people came out in protest, demanding action against those behind the incident. During one such demonstration in Kotkapura, the police fired upon unarmed protestors, killing two people. An onslaught of allegations appeared, including top police officials and then Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal gave directions for the firing. This led to Badal popularity to hit all-time low and led to Sharmoli Akli Dal (SAD) losing the 2017 Punjab State Elections.
Congress in 2017 promised action against the Former Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and
others involved in the case but due to the High Court verdict resentment against Captain
Amarinder Singh has grown.
What has made matters worse for him is that infighting with the Punjab Congress has gone
public. This has got many internal matters of the party in the public domain. The cricketer-
turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh
are at present locked in a tussle over the leadership of Punjab. This infighting has hit the
Captain government’s image as well.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on the other hand, has promised free electricity to the people of
Punjab, and an old pension plan to be implemented if they win the election of 2022.
Convenor of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal himself
said in a press conference that Chief Ministerial candidate from the Aam Aadmi Party in
Punjab will come from the Sikh community. On September 15th 2021, Aam Aadmi Party
(AAP) Punjab leader Harpal Singh Cheema said that party will go door-to-door to expose
Congress election manifesto (which they also did in Delhi Election of 2015 that gave them a landslide victory of 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly election.)
ABP news has been doing polls on Punjab elections of 2022. The first project they did was in March 2021, where Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to get 57-51 seats while Congress
between 43-49 seats. It projected a hung assembly, with the Aam Aadmi Party getting the
highest number of seats. On 4th September 2021, ABP News C-Voter released another
opinion poll showcased the same result of a hung assembly with the Aam Aadmi Party
(AAP) being the single largest party winning between 51-57 seats while Congress is getting
between 38-46 seats and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) getting between 16-24 seats. On 6th September 2021, Patriotic Voter projected a hung assembly again with the Aam Aadmi Party as the single largest party likely to form the government.
If the opinion polls are correct and trends continue to election date, then Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will not only emerge as the single largest party in Punjab, but might even get a majority. And if they do get a majority and form a government in Punjab, they will become the first non-Congress and non-BJP party to form a government in another state. While the news media will label it the Third Front on the ground, it will have a domino effect. People of India in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, and Gujarat might see the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP.
The next election of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) where it might make a huge impact will be
in December 2022 and that is Gujarat. Gujarat is Prime Minister Modi’s home turf, and he
will leave no stone unturned in order to win this state. Kerjiwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)
might not be able to win the state but will dent the Congress vote share, and emerge as an
opposition to the BJP in the state as a result of the domino effect.
For now, the state of Punjab will decide the future of India’s opposition. For Congress,
Punjab is a matter of survival in Indian politics but it presents an opportunity for the Aam
Aadmi Party (AAP) to become a formidable force against the BJP on the national political
stage which may culminate into larger presence in other states thereby bringing Kejriwal
ocentre-stage as Prime Minister.
By Shreya Fotedar (Guest Writer)