30/03/2017 5:27 PM IST | Updated 31/03/2017 8:57 AM IST

3 Critical Mistakes That Killed AAP's Chance In Punjab

It’s time they stop blaming EVMs and the Centre.

NARINDER NANU via Getty Images

The Assembly election results of Goa and Punjab came as a rude shock to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), dealing a severe blow to Arvind Kejriwal's national ambitions. In a state where there was almost a jharu wave of sorts (with many likening it to the "Modi wave"), and with numerous polls predicting an AAP win in Punjab, the party managed a paltry 20 seats out of a 117, with a vote share less than that of the incumbent Akalis, who could have sworn they were getting kicked out of power this time, and kicked out bad. Even in Goa, which returned no seats to Kejriwal's party, expectations had been very different than what the results showed on 11 March.

With the crucial MCD elections around the corner, it'll do the AAP leadership great good if instead of blaming the EVMs and the Centre, they evaluate where they went so wrong, themselves. And here's what I think led to that debacle in Punjab, specifically.

CM candidate Kejriwal?

An overreliance on Kejriwal's image coupled with a lack of a popular local leader did not let the party project a chief ministerial candidate. They were searching for a win riding solely on Kejriwal's image, perhaps expecting the kind of result that Modi got the BJP in UP. Except, they seem to have overlooked that people voting for Modi take solace in the fact that he will be there, as the country's Prime Minister, irrespective of who governs their state. They believe, as did many in UP, that a vote for the BJP is a vote for PM Modi and his governance. The voters in Punjab could not have thought the same about Kejriwal, merely a Chief Minister of another state, with no connection to them personally, or obligation towards them, officially.

The Punjabi voter did not know whom she was voting for in AAP, so she voted for the one she knew—the Captain from the Congress.

While the names of AAP leaders like Bhagwant Mann and H.S. Phoolka had been cropping up every now and then, there was really no certainty about them. In any case, the former's drunken escapades, caught repeatedly on camera, had spread like wildfire on social media throughout the state. Mr. Phoolka, on the other hand, was perceived to lack political acumen and stature befitting a Chief Minister. Even Navjot Sidhu, who was reportedly in talks to join the party, was not taken on board. Consequently, the Punjabi voter did not know whom she was voting for in AAP, so she voted for the one she knew—the Captain from the Congress.

Outsiders ruling Punjab? No!

In an attempt to replicate the Delhi model of politics and governance, the Aam Aadmi Party ended up, rather unfortunately, replicating even the Delhi party structure, in Punjab. In other words, a Delhi-based party led by non-Punjabis was contesting elections in Punjab, without involving any local leader at the helm. Neither Sanjay Singh nor Durgesh Pathak, AAP stalwarts given charge of the state, had any links to Punjab whatsoever.

Unlike in Delhi, which is rather cosmopolitan, in states like Punjab, political parties have to play along regionalist lines to garner any form of voter confidence. Mr. Sucha Singh Chotepur, considered by many to be the right choice for the party's state convenor, was fired after an apparent disagreement with the party high command, ending any Punjabi links to the party's administrators. No wonder then that they lost 22 of the 33 assembly segments that they had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and local leaders are now calling for the removal of both Singh and Pathak.

Governing a sensitive border state

What the voter was looking for was not just economic reforms but a government that could provide safety and stability to a rather sensitive state. As a result, a major concern with the AAP's choice of candidates was the lack of seasoned political leaders who could assure them of this. Especially after the recent terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Pathankot, and incidents of sacrilege that had stoked communal fires, a crucial question was whether the Aam Aadmi Party, or any of its leaders could perceivably handle such critical situations, like a Prakash Singh Badal did or a Captain Amarinder Singh could have, with their experience and acumen. The answer of course, was a resounding no. Additionally, Kejriwal's links with seemingly extremist groups, whom he made contact with during campaigning, and the blast in Maur Mandi of which he was accused of, did not inspire much voter confidence either.

The Aam Aadmi Party has changed the Indian political scenario only within a few years of its existence. While ups and downs are inevitable parts of the political game, it must learn and continue to evolve from one election to the next. Arvind Kejriwal must be disappointed with his party's performance recently, but as long as they continue to adapt and reform, the AAP footprint in Indian politics is only going to get bigger.

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