Monday, 13 March 2017

AAP's Punjab post-mortem...

The problem with most post-election analyses is that suddenly the victor is said to have done everything with omniscient perfection and the defeated party’s campaign is described as a total train-wreck. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got the benefit of this phenomenon after it swept to victory in Delhi two years ago and now it is feeling the bitter end of the equation after being vanquished by the Congress Party in Punjab. AAP got it badly wrong. And, yes, I got it badly wrong as well. No AAP tsunami materialised this time despite my prediction, quite the reverse in fact. You have every reason to demand an explanation for how this miscalculation happened. Let’s begin the post-mortem.

In mid-January of 2016 all the main political parties were assembled en masse in the city of Muktsar in the Malwa heartland of Punjab to hold rallies on the day of the Maghi Mela. It was an annual ritual but this was the day AAP announced its presence as a serious player in the state with a massive show of force. The Congress had made the mistake of holding its rally too close to the AAP rally and found that people arriving on their buses were herding to hear Kejriwal speak instead. The Congress pandal was naturally rendered quite empty. The shrewder Akalis had anticipated this eventuality and held their rally at a comfortable distance away. What followed, as recounted to me by a senior Congress leader, was that newly minted Punjab Congress President, Captain Amarinder Singh, accompanied by the entire state leadership of the party had arrived in the area but did not dare show up at the still largely empty rally site. While emergency measures were taken to fill the rally with people Amarinder Singh and his entourage decided to take shelter in the house of an unsuspecting farmer in a nearby field. Two MLAs were dispatched to record the AAP rally. Until this point Amarinder had considered AAP’s surprise victories in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a fluke, but after suffering this indignity I imagine he had a re-think. Despite what he may have said in public it was clear from his actions thereafter that the Captain now believed AAP would be his main adversary in the upcoming campaign. An SOS went out for Prashant Kishor. 

Shortly after the Maghi Mela rallies I met AAP’s campaign manager Durgesh Pathak for the first time. After I got past the fact that he was so young he looked like he must have been barely out of college I quickly realised that underneath the youthful façade lay a hardcore political operative who knew exactly what he was doing and had travelled to every corner of Punjab in the previous six months. He was also very clear that the only man who could stop AAP from victory in Punjab was Amarinder Singh. Battle lines had been drawn.

It is unnecessary to recount the entire course of the campaign over the last year in great detail. While AAP led by Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann unleashed an onslaught on the Badals the Congress was trying to get its house in order with Prashant Kishor and his team overseeing the operation. Until, of course, Sardar Chhotepur was removed as the convener of AAP Punjab and civil war ensued for a few weeks with charges being flung from all directions. Amarinder took full advantage of this period of turbulence for AAP. But the tide soon reversed again when it seemed the entire leadership of Punjab Congress was stranded in Delhi for weeks as the high command took forever to decide on their list of candidates. While AAP campaigned relentlessly before the announcement of elections it seemed Congress had left it till too late by giving some of their candidates as little as two or three weeks before the election. But the Congress had a trump card to play in the end and that was the entry of Navjot Singh Sidhu as a candidate from Amritsar. The pictures of Amarinder and Sidhu smiling and chatting together at their press conference was very effective and major setback for AAP.

In the last forty-eight hours since the election results a flurry of newspaper articles have been postulating a myriad of reasons why AAP electorally under-performed. Let me try and address some of them. It is true the Hindu and urban vote coalesced behind the Congress, but they were traditional Congress voters who had drifted to the BJP for the last decade and were now coming home anyway. Though, I must admit, even as a Sikh, the excessive religiosity of the AAP campaign made me distinctly uncomfortable at times and the mysterious bomb blast in Bathinda on the eve of voting fed into the unhelpful narrative of AAP consorting with extremists. The inability of AAP to clinch a deal with Sidhu was a missed opportunity, certainly, because he could have provided a pan-Punjab face that the party sorely required, but agreeing to his demands would have almost certainly led to the exodus of at least two senior leaders, thus making the entire exercise self-defeating. Then there was the ever-present bogey of the threat posed by outsiders from Delhi remote controlling AAP’s Punjab unit, all the while Congress leaders were sitting in Delhi for weeks on end to find out if they made the cut in the candidate list approved by the Gandhis. Of course, there is a kernel of truth to all these observations by the media but I am not convinced they were decisive in causing voters finally backing the Congress.

AAP’s success in the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha election also has to be properly understood. At the time AAP represented everything to everyone and provided the perfect vehicle for a protest vote across central and eastern Malwa, a region known for its rebellious streak. By the time Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak were deputed to the state in the wake of the expulsions of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan the state unit was in complete anarchy, with at least two of the four Members of Parliament in open revolt. It took them six months just to calm everything down and start building anything resembling a party organisation that could compete against the Congress and the Akalis. By the time the election came along AAP had never really garnered much support in Majha and only lukewarm support in Doaba, thus staking it all in sweeping the Malwa heartland. To sweep Malwa AAP was reliant on Akali Dal suffering a complete meltdown, something I expected given the environment of strong anti-incumbency, but surprisingly they managed to maintain their 2014 performance and Congress took full advantage of the three-way split in the region. 

So you could reasonably posit that the 2014 AAP surge was an ephemeral occurrence caused by voter anger at both a deeply unpopular UPA Govt at the Centre and equally unpopular Badal Government in Chandigarh. In the Punjab assembly campaign as AAP made its stand clear on issues and stated its preferred policies it now asked voters to look at it from the perspective of a government-in-waiting and not just a faceless vehicle for protest votes. This change of perspective form the point of view of voters provided the crux of how this election was decided. The question voters needed to decide on was if AAP was ready to rule Punjab.

The turbulence in Delhi between the Centre and Delhi Governments may have earned some sympathy for AAP amongst younger voters but also may have worried risk-averse and older voters who feared Punjab’s interests would pay the price in the clash between the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Delhi. Then there was the lack of a Chief Ministerial candidate when faced with Amarinder Singh who was unlike any leader AAP had faced so far because he fits the profile of a powerful regional satrap who has absolutely no national ambitions beyond the state and played the sympathy card of this being his last election to the hilt.

AAP was successful in convincing voters of Punjab that it would jail Majithia, that it would safeguard the holy scriptures against sacrilege, that it would import its successful educational and health policies from Delhi, that NRIs would never have it so good, and it would launch a war on drugs. But in the end none of those things mattered. Punjab voters looked at the line-up of AAP candidates, most political newcomers with little or no government experience, and could not visualise a Government-in-Waiting. They looked at Captain Amarinder Singh and saw a safe pair of hands, past his prime and flawed though he might be. End of story.

As the main opposition party in the Punjab legislative assembly the twenty-two AAP MLAs, as well as the larger party organisation, will have five years to prove to voters that they are indeed ready to govern. They must do this by being a responsible but ever vigilant opposition party. You can rest assured the Congress Government will provide ample opportunity to showcase these qualities. I’ll be keeping a close watch on the antics of the Captain and his durbar too. Stay tuned.  

       
      

22 comments:

  1. Very nice analysis. The Khalistani tag and lack of CM face really hurt AAP.

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  2. Good analysis, KP. The election results have been a great setback for AAP, but as you correctly pointed out, they have 5 years to showcase themselves as a credible opposition. Additionally, they will need to establish good local leaders to fight seasoned politicians like Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

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  3. Factors contributing from AAP and congress end but people expectations as safe pair of hands.... Hmm... More than AAP loss, it will be unfortunate for people of Punjab to suffer for next 5 years...

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  4. AAP suffers leadership crisis, apart from Kerjiwal there is no other leader, Kejriwal suffers a huge credibility crisis his direct accusation on popular PM has led to his downfall, I have followed AAP from the day of its inception, I am one of its founder members, Stood in line for 4 hours to get the form filled on the first day of its launch at jantar mantar, But now i feel that your positions on recent issues have distanced young generation from you. AAP will keep failing until you change your strategy
    1) Start believing in power distribution, may be rope in back the lost leaders.
    2) STOP accusing PM on baseless issues
    3) Perform in Delhi on your promises, do not play cheap politics and wait for last year to implement wifi and janlokpal
    4) Do not over-project Kejriwal, He cant be PM in 2019. Live in reality so only focus on state elections, a bird in hand is better then two in bush
    5) Where ever you fight election, you should have a strong local leader, you cant win election on Kejriwals face value any more.
    6) You use social media very effectively , then you must know most of the youth has drifted from you, few of your leaders like Ashutosh are badly abused every where, have a strong panel of spokes persons like raghav and Atishi.

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  5. Lovekesh Chandra13 March 2017 at 12:26

    It is a lost opportunity due to lack of (real) politics experience of AAP. Ideally speaking AAP did rightly with Siddhu but didn't work politically. Good point u mentioned about Risk averse punjabis. Need image makeover. Solid analysis.

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  6. Adding to what satendra singh said
    1.stop abusing every non aapian and pls get off the high horse
    2.Enough of this over confidence
    3.Stop talking about internal surveys/landslides
    4.stop making ridiculous claims eg the only credible opp in Maha statement.
    5.feel delhi victory was a tukka, cant be replicated everywhere.
    6.Seasoned/experienced people need of the hour, not novices.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. AAP NEEDS TO WORK HARD NEED TO LOOK AT THAT POINT WHERE THIS PARTY LOST IN BOTH GOA AND PUNJAB.IF YOU APPLY DELHI STRATEGY,CONCENTRATE AT EVERY SEAT IN COMING ELECTION,RAISING ISSUE OF PEOPLE AAP WILL SURELY WIN.

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  9. Nice one. A eye opening. But pl find out EVM fraud taken place or not as everyone telling.

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  10. I am also hardcore AAP supporter, and also agree with all other friends tht..Plz govern Delhi and prove ..Ak needs image make over and be more likable to people..His anti Modi image has hurt him more Den Modi...Be more media friendly..And do not put forward in any state until you hv strong local leader ..Modi only tlk about gujrat for 10 years..N made his pro development iamge ..So mk Delhi model state and den start selling it to people

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  11. उत्साह अपनी जगह ठीक है परन्तु बेसिरपैर के surveys से आम कार्यकर्ता ऐसे results से निराश होता है. वास्तविकता यह है कि पहले चुनाव के मद्देनज़र यह सफलता काफ़ी बड़ी है परन्तु अपेक्षाएँ इतनी बढ़ा दी गईं कि श्यापा सा छा गया. उज्जवल पक्ष यह है कि इन हालात में पंजाब को संभालना टेढ़ी खीर होता अत: विपक्ष में बैठकर बखिया उधेड़ना ज़्यादा हितकर होगा.

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  12. What I feel is that the OUTSIDER tag, given by opposition, was the biggest factor for the AAP rout (though it's not a rout, the AAPians 'feel', it's a BIG failure).

    Having a CM Candidate & Arvind taking him along, would have yielded a positive result. Lack of CM Candidate, gave a opportunity to opposition, that AAP is a Delhi party and will Punjab will be remote controlled.

    One may argue that Goa HAD a CM Candidate ��. But here Arvind did not much canvassed. Arvind totally focussed on Punjab (it was right thing). If he had given same time to Goa, Elvis certainly would have won.

    So I feel it was an outsider tag which gave Capt Amrinder Singh (very much a Punjabian) the main reason for his thumping win.

    At this moment, I do not rule out malpractice, might have been done by Modi/ AmitShah in favour of Captain.

    None of Political Parties, none of media persons, many in judiciary, many beaurocrats...... Want Arvind Kejriwal AAP to win, obviously ������

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  13. not agree with Siddu being sidelined, He would have created more fissures in the party. ANyway a base has been created and others should take the party forward in the coming years

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  14. Problem with AAP is Sanjay Singh. With him lie all wrongs of AAP, starting from ticket distribution. 2 prominent AAP faces YY & PB were thrown out. People like Mayank Gandhi distanced themselves. 2 MPs left AAP. 3 Delhi MLAs have become deserters. Punjab Chief was ousted. So many volunteers left. Some really good meaning, some selfish guys like Raizada/Haslam etc.

    You are barely a fully strong group & you cannot risk removal/throwing/ousting of established faces every now & then.

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  15. none of media persons, many in judiciary, many beaurocrats...... Want Arvind Kejriwal AAP to win, obviously , kejriwal was being projected as Remote control and HS phoolka has to be made star campaigner instead of Alcoholic Mann , sidhu could be accommodated, and dont create FALSE SURVEY before every election , Create Strong Local leader and dont oppose Modi every now and then become shrewd like (Nitish Kumar) Remove sanjay singh and ashutosh from INCHARGE post , take all Volunteers in confidence Concentrate on MCD to fight back make all MLAs accountable for their corporation seats many of Mla are not seen in public , it seems 3 minister manish , satyender & kapil mishra works out of 6 Minister , kejriwal should take some portfolios from their non performing Minister like imran and gopal rai and work on Roads < Wi Fi & CCTV cameras , women safety, don,t give so much advt in newspapers , YOUR WORK IN SCHOOLS SPEAKS ITSELF , PROJECT DEVELOPMENT WORK ONLY and involve all outstaion AAP leaders in MCDs election to revive morale of AAP

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  16. The biggest issue is the AAP instituted a top down leadership model of kejriwal being the MLA maker. Instead, they should have utilized their grassroots campaign an empowered more local say to appoint leaders (ie more of a "bottom up" model). Punjabis and Sikhs are suspicious of too much Delhi control, and having Kejriwal in Delhi making all decisions will not work for the long term (and in this case the short term as well). Saying that, they went from 0 to 20 seats. The should focus on the +20 seat gain and wait for the Punjabi anti incumbency pattern to emerge again hopefully this time with more established and locally supported punjabi leaders ready to win seats.

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