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Have Kejriwal-Mann promised Punjab voters more than they can deliver?

By Sai Manish
March 11, 2022 17:34 IST
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Many of the freebies announced by Kejriwal in the run-up to the polls, on which the AAP rode to this unprecedented win, would cost loads of cash, reports Sai Manish.

The wave was unmistakable. Perhaps it is the sheer magnitude that would have left even the comedian-turned-politician and Punjab’s next chief minister, Bhagwant Mann, perplexed.

IMAGE: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal (right) and Aam Aadmi Party's chief ministerial candidate for Punjab Bhagwant Mann after the party's victory in the state polls, March 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular victory, the largest ever by any since the re-organisation of the state in 1966, has come on the back of stellar performances in all three regions -- Doaba, Malwa, and Majha.

The Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, which have ruled the state between themselves since independence, have suffered a huge blow in the state.


“This massive win is more a rejection of the existing duopoly than it is of the acceptance of a new party in Punjab. People were frustrated with caste, corruption, and nepotism and there was a yearning for change for many years now. In 2017, Prashant Kishor’s event management skills denied AAP that chance with it finishing behind the Congress. This time around, Kejriwal’s door-to-door and grassroots campaign made voters connect with the AAP,” said Pampa Mukherjee, professor of political science, Panjab University.

The declaration of Mann as the chief ministerial candidate at a critical time before the polls played a crucial role in the party’s acceptance among Punjab’s voters.

Until Mann was made the CM face, AAP faced the dilemma of being perceived as an 'outsider party' which would govern the state remotely from Delhi.

Mann’s comic avatar before he became a parliamentarian ende­ared him to the masses was no secret.

Kejriwal’s 'Delhi model' too struck a chord.

With promises like paying Rs 1,000 a month to every adult woman in the state; 300 units of free power each month to every household, which would leave eight of every 10 households with no bills to pay; setting up village clinics like the mohalla clinics of Delhi; revamping Punjab’s dilapidated government schools like what has been done in Delhi; and access to free hospital care -- AAP’s promises, already tested in Delhi, convinced more voters than similar ones the traditional ruling parties of Punjab made.

“The results bear the unmistakable stamp of the Punjabi khundak (revenge) vote. The voters wanted to teach the establishment a lesson for the dismal condition of the state under their watch for decades,” said Ashutosh Kumar, political analyst.

Nothing exemplifies this Sikh khundak (revenge) better than the fact that all the tallest names in the state lost their election to novices fielded by AAP.

Both Prakash Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal lost their bastions of Lambi and Jalalabad, respectively, to AAP candidates.

If this was unthinkable, Amarinder Singh lost his pocket borough of Patiala.

Navjot Sidhu was defeated from his safe constituency of Amritsar East.

Sitting CM Charanjit Channi lost from both seats of Chamkaur Sahib and Bhadaur he was contesting.

Another popular Congressman, Manpreet Badal, suffered a heavy defeat in Bathinda Urban.

In all these cases, the giant slayers were candidates of AAP.

While the results signal the first ever expansion in power of AAP outside Delhi, the results have deep ramifications for both the Akalis and the Congress.

The Akalis’ efforts to leverage the farmers’ protest in their favour after severing ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party failed to yield any result.

Meanwhile, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s active campaigning in the state after naming Channi, a Dalit, the chief minister seems to have come a cropper.

“This is a turning-point in the history of Punjab. The Akalis have nowhere to go except return to their Panthic agenda. Badal will have to take a call whether he should consolidate the party’s original ‘Punjab for Sikhs’ agenda or reach out to other communities. Politics in Punjab has been reshaped for ever after these results,” said Pramod Kumar, director of the Chandigarh-based Institute for Development and Communication.

A daunting challenge for Mann would be to fulfil the promises Kejriwal made in the run-up to the polls.

While Delhi is a fiscally prudent state, Punjab is a financial mess.

Many of the freebies announced by Kejriwal in the run-up to the polls, on which the AAP rode to this unprecedented win, would cost loads of cash.

The state’s debt in 2021-22 was estimated at Rs 2.82 lakh crore.

Kejriwal and Mann face the same dilemma their predecessors did -- have they promised Punjab’s electorate more than their ability to deliver?

The next five years after this historic khundak mandate of the Punjabi voter could well answer that question for AAP.

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Sai Manish in Chandigarh
Source: source