The 11th of March 2017 was a momentous day, shaping the political outlook for modern day India. The election results for five state legislative assemblies were announced on this day, with the BJP and its allies steamrolling their way to power in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. The only exception to this trend was Punjab, where the Congress party (against all odds) snatched almost two thirds of the majority by bagging 77 seats out of the total 117.
The BJP's success in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa can be simplistically attributed to an anti-incumbency factor against the Congress and to the ever increasing popularity of Narendra Modi across the nation. Punjab, on the other hand, witnessed an anti-incumbency wave of its own against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal Party (SAD)-BJP alliance. True to expectations, SAD (and BJP) with a combined tally of 18 seats have been ousted from power in Punjab. AAP also did not perform anywhere close to its projections, securing 20 seats.
The party's glorious run to the finish line in Punjab must not be mistaken as an indication of a possible revival of brand Congress at the national level.
That it secured an overwhelming majority in Punjab not only saved the day for the Congress, but must have been a massive relief for a party that is facing political extinction if it does not re-invent itself fairly swiftly. However, the election results for both AAP and INC in Punjab require a deeper analysis. At face value, they are misleading.
Let's start with the Congress.
First and foremost, the party's glorious run to the finish line in Punjab must not be mistaken as an indication of a possible revival of brand Congress at the national level. It is a mere anomaly, orchestrated largely by Captain Amarinder Singh and his team in Punjab.
Traditionally, in the absence of a formidable AAP threat, the Congress would have walked to a majority with its eyes closed on the back of an anti-incumbency sentiment against the SAD and its allies. However, this time around, AAP loomed as a real challenge to distort the INC's aspirations of getting into power. Therefore, for the INC to win the number of seats it did on 11 March 2017 in Punjab, credit must be afforded to Captain Amarinder Singh and his team for establishing a connect with the people. Seemingly, he did it on his own terms, and without the prominent presence of any of the Gandhis.
Punjab has not voted for the national brand of the INC (if anything still remains of that brand). Punjab has voted for a familiar brand of local politicians that make-up the Congress party in Punjab, led by Captain Amarinder Singh. Much like when he overpowered Arun Jaitley in Amritsar in the last federal elections. It was Amarinder Singh's victory, not the Congress's.
The Congress has an arduous journey ahead of it to reinvent itself and to find the calibre of leadership nationally that would leapfrog it past the seemingly invincible Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Now, what about AAP?
Half-baked alternatives do not make formidable political opponents. AAP tasted unparalleled success a few years ago when Delhi voted it into a position of absolute power. Since then though, AAP has been behaving like an excitable kid who wants to sprint before it has learned to crawl.
Punjab has not voted for the national brand of the INC... it has voted for a familiar brand of local politicians, led by Captain Amarinder Singh.
For a government with a clear mandate in Delhi, the AAP does not have too many glorious things to show for the opportunity it was given. If anything, they have come across as an opportunistic political outfit keen to hop around aimlessly hoping to be swept into power "somewhere"', more so through good destiny than real merit.
As a party AAP thrives on political sensationalism to trigger emotions and garner support. It works social media like no other political outfit to erect a mirage about its following and reach. Sweeping statements and outrageous political claims are the hallmarks of AAP's rhetoric. However, they have precious little political credibility and have not demonstrated their true ability to govern and lead. Until it embarks on a course correction, AAP will continue to come across as a flippant political outfit of mavericks and vigilantes.
Now, Punjab is set to be ruled by a Congress government for the next five years. Amarinder Singh and his team have a once in a lifetime opportunity to cement their places for a further five years after that. In doing so, they may end up helping to resurrect the Congress brand nationally as well.
AAP no doubt will dissect its performance in Punjab and will stay as a credible future challenge, should the Congress waste the opportunity it has been handed in Punjab.