'Had the Congress made Sidhu its CM face, they would have won 80 out of 117 seats'
The Aam Aadmi Party has swept the Punjab assembly elections, and is expected to win around 90 of of 117 seats, a margin that has surprised political observers and rivals alike.
After Delhi, Punjab is the first state where AAP will form a government.
What went in AAP's favour? How did the party bag an absolute majority by completely overshadowing the entrenched parties in the state -- the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party?
Malvinder Singh Mali, political analyst and former advisor to Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com on AAP's rise and the Congress's decline in Punjab.
Punjab wanted change. The voters of Punjab wanted a solution to their problems.
The grand old parties of Punjab like the Congress and Akali Dal in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party were exchanging power among themselves after every five to 10 years.
When the Aam Aadmi Party debuted in Punjab, the voters gave them four members of Parliament in 2014.
The going was very good for the AAP and they could have won the 2017 assembly elections too, but at that time they promoted Arvind Kejriwal's face. He was the only AAP face visible during the 2017 assembly campaign, which disillusioned voters.
This was AAP's biggest mistake in 2017: Kejriwal was Delhi chief minister, how could they promote him in Punjab? No wonder the party lost.
At that time there was a choice between Arvind Kejriwal and Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress and people chose Captain Singh.
This time it was very clear that Captain (Amarinder Singh) was flirting with the BJP openly and therefore he was thrown out from the CM's post only to form his own party and get defeated badly. Captain Singh even lost his own seat.
It was only Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu who could have brought that change in Punjab for the Congress, but that did not happen as the Congress selected Charanjit Singh Channi as its CM candidate after Captain Singh's exit.
Sidhu was constantly talking change. He was constantly saying that a mafia was ruling Punjab and to end the mafia raj one needs to end the policies supporting the mafia.
He was openly stating that someone had to stop this loot of the exchequer which was not being done.
Sidhu wanted a revolution in Punjab to end this mafia rule.
The Congress internally never understood the gravity of this situation in the state. They sacked Captain Singh from the chief minister's post in haste, but, unfortunately, did not touch any of his cabinet ministers.
By not replacing the non-performing ministers in Captain Singh's government, the Congress proved that all the changes at the top were cosmetic.
The Congress high command did not understand the trouble was deep-rooted and instead of giving Sidhu the baton and making him the Congress chief minister-designate in Punjab, they got in Channi who is nowhere close to competition from Sidhu.
By choosing Channi, the Congress high command played the Dalit card in Punjab politics to get the Dalit vote bank.
In earlier days, the Bahujan Samaj Party was in alliance with the Akali Dal and the BSP had managed to get four members of Parliament elected from the state.
The Congress high command felt they will get the Dalit votes and this will work for them.
Punjab voters, however, did not want such politics.
They were tired of the Hindu-Sikh farmers' agitation and wanted some new vision for the state and in this scenario, the Congress played the Dalit card.
By sidelining Sidhu, the Congress made a big mistake in Punjab.
Had the Congress stood for Sidhu's vision of politics, they would have not lost.
Kejriwal saw all this happening and this time smartly, unlike in 2017, took a backseat from Punjab politics by making Bhagwant Mann the CM candidate.
By bringing in Mann as the CM face, he gave a very good slogan, 'Ek Mauka' (just one chance). This appealed to the voters of Punjab as they felt that AAP has to be given one chance because they were tired of the ruling elite in Punjab.
The sad part here is that the Congress did not understand if you don't change the way your politics is run, then the people will change your politics and throw you out. This is exactly what happened in Punjab.
The Congress forgot the fact that Mann was an elected member of Parliament from Punjab and he had his own popularity and good ratings among the people of the state. They preferred Mann's leadership over Channi's leadership who was running the same kind of politics.
Had the Congress made Sidhu the CM face, they would have won Punjab. They would have won 80 out of 117 seats.
They did not do that and today they are reduced to less than 20 seats.
One must understand the politics of the BJP and Kejriwal are the same. They only compete with each other in the 'who-is-a-true-patriot' political race. Both Kejriwal and Prime Miniter Narendra Damodardas Modi have the same ace up their sleeve.
In reality, they are toeing the same line on nationalism. The only problem which will arise in future would be that Kejriwal is known to run a dictator kind of leadership. Will he allow Mann to run the state as Mann wishes?
This answer, only time will tell.