Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dodging a Bullet

In the historic 2014 elections, where the Modi wave decimated the opposition is almost the entire country, Amritsar was the seat that the Deep Congress chose to highlight, for it was there that Arun Jaitley, fighting his first ever Lok Sabha election, was defeated by the Congress. But the Punjab had a bigger story - after making history by returning the SAD-BJP government in 2012, the state not only defeated Jaitley, who is #2 in the Cabinet today, but also gave the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) four MPs, even while its own star, Arvind Kejriwal, was roundly defeated by Modi in Varanasi.

Cut to three years later, with AAP having formed a government in Delhi (again) with a near complete sweep of 67/70 seats, and the party rightly saw Punjab as ripe for the picking, hoping to free itself up from the glorified municipality that is the half-state of Delhi and take control of a full-fledged state. There was reason to be confident, there was vision, and there was determination. The only thing lacking was execution - which ultimately turned its hugely hyped campaign into a fiasco. For, AAP chose to be the most dishonest party of all. Now, all parties resort to lying to sell themselves - they make false promises, they create fake controversies. But few have been as brazen as to fabricate a victory altogether!

For the year preceding the election, the entire country (!) was subject to questionable 'independent' surveys that gave AAP over 100 seats in Punjab, thus another Delhi-like sweep. And this was not by some random party worker - it was by Kejriwal himself. And while these did confuse the electorate, three factors turned the pendulum against AAP:

  1. The party (i.e., Kejriwal) questioning the surgical strikes by the Indian Army in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, going as far as casting aspersions on the Army, in which a sizeable chunk of both jawans and officers come from Punjab itself. 
  2. The party (i.e., Kejriwal) hobnobbing with Khalistani elements in Punjab as well as abroad, which led to sheer panic among the electorate fearing the return of the dark days of militancy. The party was funded largely by Khalistani NRIs, who also made up a sizable portion of its volunteer base there.
  3. The party (i.e., Kejriwal) has performed dismally in Delhi as a government, making tall promises but failing to do much. Kejriwal himself is an absentee Chief Minister, only registering his presence in special Assembly sessions that he calls to hurl abuses at Prime Minister Modi under the protection of Parliamentary immunity. The party has kept its reputation as being one in perpetual protest mode, with nothing beyond that to offer, while also supporting anti-national elements in universities (the party's youth wing, CYSS, has failed to make any inroads in the state's universities). And the state's huge publicity budget has hardly done any good.
That the SAD-BJP government was unpopular was quite well-known, and its 18 seats are probably more than it should've even hoped for. The ailing senior Badal served a good 10 years as Chief Minister, after over half a century in public life, but his time in active politics has come to an end. His son, who has been the de facto CM for the last five years, will have to work to rebuild the party after this huge loss, in which the SAD will not even be the largest opposition party. 

As for the Congress, the clear winner was Capt. Amrinder Singh, who is now is his second stint as CM. That the Gandhi dynasty left him to take care of Punjab, making the right call to sideline Rahul Gandhi's crony Pradeep Bajwa, helped the Congress register its only victory in this election cycle (and the first in two years). He held off against a vicious assault by AAP, and has probably saved the state from a very dark future. 

In all of this, there is the curious case of Navjot Singh Siddhu, the former BJP MP who formed his own outfit but eventually joined the Congress after flirting with AAP for sometime. While he did take the right call to stay away from AAP, his effectiveness as a Minister in the new government is questionable. He is going to continue hosting his TV show, which is really the only thing he is known for now. Whether he won or lost is up in the air. 

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