Congress makes a memorable comeback in Punjab, thanks to Amarinder Singh

It was a given that Punjab would vote against the Badals. What made the election a keenly watched contest, though, was the suspense over who would walk away with the Shiromani Akali Dal vote share — the Congress or Aam Aadmi Party, the new entrant in the so-far bipolar state. On Saturday, Congress led by former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh emerged as the clear winner.

Even as the Grand Old Party’s vote share shrunk to 38.5% (from 40.11% in 2012 and 40.94% in 2007), it got a decisive mandate, winning 77 seats in the 117-member Assembly. The ruling SAD-BJP combine suffered considerable decline in vote share. While SAD’s vote share fell from 34.75% in 2012 to 25.3%, BJP saw its share reduce from 7.13% to 5.3%. AAP cornered 23.8% vote share.

Anti-incumbency against the Badals rubbed off on the BJP, with its candidates losing in Amritsar and Pathankot, which were always considered the party’s strongholds.

So, what worked for the Congress? Party insiders attributed it to a clear strategy of projecting Captain Amarinder Singh as the leader, anti-incumbency factor, inexperience of AAP, a wellthought out campaign led by Captain and Navjot Sidhu, and an extra effort by party seniors to rein in rebels in at least 20 seats.

Punjab was intrigued by AAP. The new kid on the block provided Badal-weary electorate a new option. But a lack of a
chief ministerial face worked against it. The party wasn’t clear whether it should have a CM face. This fuelled speculation that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal could leave the capital to his deputy Manish Sisodia and come to Punjab.

Confusion and the possibility of a non-Sikh CM did not go down well with the electorate. Congress’ campaign of Captain vs Who worked in its favour.

Malwa, the largest region in the state with 69 assembly segments, is usually considered the kingmaker.

AAP’s performance in 2014 parliamentary election had fuelled hopes it would build on its success. AAP’s performance in Punjab election was restricted to the four parliamentary segments it had won three years earlier. This time it won 18 of 69 seats in Malwa. In sharp contrast, Congress did well across the regions of Malwa (40 seats), Majha (22 seats) and Doaba (15 seats). AAP had expected to form the government from Malwa.

However, a poor organisation in Majha and border areas of Malwa did it in. It had expected to cash in on youth vote and Dalits, but Punjab seemed to vote in favour of tried and tested Congress.

Deras have always played an important role and the run-up to the voting day saw leaders queuing up before Dera heads to get their support. When the largest dera, Dera Sacha Sauda, weighed in favour of Badals, SAD-BJP combine hoped to finish No. 2 in the state. Malwa, the region where Dera Sacha Sauda has the most followers, saw heavy voting, raising hopes in the ruling camp.

However, the rout in Malwa has now put a question mark on the political influence a dera head could have on its followers.

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