Just months before the Punjab assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi party led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal became the party holding the majority of seats in the Chandigarh municipal elections on Monday. Significantly, this was the first time that the Aam Aadmi party participated in this election. He won 14 of 35 municipal seats, BJP 12, Congress 8 and Shiromani Akali Dal, 1. This first victory will certainly boost AAP’s confidence and serve as a catalyst for the wave of Kejriwal expansion.
The AAP called its victory in Chandigarh a trailer ahead of the Punjab assembly elections, but there are significant differences between Punjab and Chandigarh. First of all, Chandigarh’s electorate is urban, predominantly literate, middle and upper class. But if we look at the Punjab, it is an agrarian state. According to the latest census, the state had about 31.9% of the Dalit population and 31.2% of the OBC population. While only 18.9% of Chandigarh are Dalits. Therefore, viewing the Chandigarh result as the litmus test might be a pipe dream.
Another difference is that Chandigarh is not a Sikh dominated city at all. Only about 13% of its population is Sikh, while about 57% of the population of Punjab is Sikh. The AAP opposition is not the BJP, as was the case in Chandigarh. The recent farmers’ protest heavily tarnished the image of BJP, which had helped AAP reach Chandigarh.
The results of the Chandigarh civic polls could be interpreted in several ways. The Punjab has made it clear to the BJP that when it comes to national and municipal elections, the party should not depend solely on the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. All is not well with the BJP in Chandigarh and Punjab due to the increase in internal strife. The incumbent BJP mayor also lost the election. Meanwhile, the performance of the Congress party in the Chandigarh civic poll was not poor. It won more seats than last time and its share of the vote has also increased.
2022 will be a pivotal election year in India, as some of the most important states go to the polls, including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. There will also be elections in smaller states like Goa and Manipur. If these elections will indeed be crucial for the BJP to retain power and for Congress to keep its relevance, for the AAP, this is the best chance to position itself as the national political alternative.
Kejriwal has an ambitious expansion plan. The AAP will fight in elections in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Delhi. The party has already launched major campaigns in these states. On this list, the AAP led by Kejriwal is the main opposition party in the Punjab and the MCD. Previously, the party had fought in Goa but could not win. Significantly, the AAP also registered its presence in the citadel of Modi-Shah in Gujarat by winning 27 out of 120 seats in the Surat local body ballot. From now on, Chandigarh’s victory will be an advantage for the party. The AAP’s foundational plan focuses on Delhi’s model of pro-people governance, cultural nationalism and an alternative hindutva.
After Delhi, the AAP has the largest presence in the Punjab and is the state’s main opposition party. Punjab politics have been in a state of massive turmoil following the resignation of the Chief Minister of Congress, Captain Amarinder Singh, his post and the party. Meanwhile, despite a new CM and a President of the Congress from Punjab Pradesh, the internal squabbles of the Congress party have shown no sign of dissipating.
Meanwhile, the central government overturned the three agricultural laws, and the farmers’ protest is over. However, there is no doubt that in the upcoming elections in Punjab, the issue of farmers will play a key role. There is also a growing feeling that some of the farmers’ unions will fight against the elections in Punjab. At present, it looks like the AAP will get the main benefit of the farmers protest because the houses of other parties are not in order. Inside Parliament and in the streets, the AAP has been with the farmers. All of these developments could be the key to the upcoming Punjab elections and benefit the AAP. And more importantly, as the AAP is the key opposition in the Punjab, Kejriwal stands to gain from the infighting in Congress.
Over time, Kejriwal transformed his image from an anarchist street fighter into a successful administrator. Every party and its leaders face several criticisms from the public and this is the healthy path of democracy. While Kejriwal’s silence on questions of anti-CAA demonstration, the violence at Jamia and JNU is undoubtedly unfortunate, as is its portrayal of Shaheen Bagh movement as a brainchild of BJP, ultimately, politics is a numbers game. Kejriwal’s wall of silence was once again in evidence when anti-Muslim slogans were chanted recently in Jantar Mantar. Not the best practice for a chief minister. The scars of the Delhi riots of 2020 are still fresh, but the citizens of Delhi have witnessed little action from the CM. The message is simple: Whether you like it or not, Kejriwal will not be facing the BJP on issues related to religion.
Kejriwal believes in straightforward and easy messaging. The AAP is doing its best to establish itself in several states like Goa, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. In all these states, Kejriwal’s message is that his party will provide the pro-people programs that he has implemented in Delhi, such as free electricity up to 200 units (or more), free water , free travel on government buses for women, better electrical infrastructure. and others.
With the continued depletion of the importance of Congress and the increasingly poor performance of the BJP in state elections, 2022 could be a game-changer for Kejriwal’s political future. But to assess Punjab’s results based on the results of the Chandigarh Civic Survey could be a damaging idea.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist and former policy researcher, Delhi Assembly Research Center. The views expressed are personal)
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Posted on: Tuesday December 28, 2021 23:08 IST