In 2015, it was 'Wall to wall Kejriwal' in Delhi (67 out of 70 seats). In 2022, it is 'AAP Mannia' in Punjab (92 of 117). On both occasions, the Congress gleefully grabbed the dubious distinction of being at the receiving end of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s onslaught. The similarities of AAP's historic landslide victories do not end here.
It was voters' desperate wish for a change that made AAP's surge possible in the National Capital Territory of Delhi in 2015 and a few hundred kilometres away in Punjab in 2022.
In fact, this is AAP's first win in a 'full-fledged' state (Delhi has a Lieutenant Governor).
In a clear display of rage against the traditional political parties like the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), people in Delhi overwhelmingly voted for AAP seven years ago.
The same rage, anger, fury, disappointment, despair and dissatisfaction were on display in Punjab during this polls.
The election results from Punjab today show that people were frustrated with the traditional parties and they hankered for change.
The year-long farmers' protest in the northern states, especially in Punjab, against the Centre's newly introduced farm laws, in fact, had fuelled the people's aspiration for change. The eventual success of the farm stir (Centre withdrew the laws ahead of the assembly polls) provided the much-needed confidence to farmers that if they stayed together they could bring in change.
The political avatar of around 35 farmers' groups -- Sanyukt Samaj Manch -- failed to capture the imagination of voters because they did not consider it as a viable alternative. So, the all-powerful farmers' community in the land-locked state found AAP's 'Ek Mauka for Mann' (one chance for Mann) slogan more attractive. The farmers' group, which was a huge success story during the protest, finally notched up nothing in the battle of democracy.
Mellowed down Mann
During this poll campaigning, AAP's chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Singh Mann, who was a popular stand-up comedian before joining politics, had been a changed persona altogether. Maybe, he learnt a few lessons from his past mistakes. In 2016, fellow AAP MP Harinder Khalsa had complained to the Lok Sabha Speaker that Mann, who was the Member of Parliament from Sangrur, attended the House in an inebriated condition. The 'Mann of the Moment' had courted controversies earlier too for some of his remarks. However, this time around, he had been very cautious till the results were out, and, according to people close to him, the reason behind this is Raghav Chadha, the party's Punjab affairs in-charge and Arvind Kejriwal's Man Friday. Even though Mann had publicly declared his break-up with Bacchus at a rally during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Kejriwal had apparently asked Chadha to shadow the 'comedian-politician' at all his campaign meetings. The result: Mann was politically correct in his actions and words.
Kejriwal's strategy of announcing Mann as the CM candidate right from the start also helped squash speculations about the Delhi leader coming to Punjab to head the government. Maan has always been loyal to the party. He never resigned from the party despite several of his senior colleagues dumping it for various reasons. This loyalty factor must have played a role in AK zeroing in on Mann after considering a few other names for the CM's post.
AAP's policy of maintaining a certain distance from the radicals in Punjab was another well-thought-out strategy which yielded the desired result for the party.
An inaccessible Captain Amarinder Singh confined to the walls of his Siswan farm house when he was the Congress CM did the biggest damage to the party. Captain failed to deliver on his promises made during the 2017 polls mainly due to the state's empty coffers. Even though he quit Congress later to form Punjab Lok Congress, the damage was already done and Congress's new CM Charanjit Singh Channi couldn't do much to salvage the sinking ship. The infighting in Congress (Navjot Singh Sidhu factor) also made it easy for the voters to decide which way to go. The AAP wave swallowed Amarinder, Sidhu and Channi.
The Congress was also missing a campaign manager like Prashant Kishor, who did a tremendous job in 2017.
SAD loses credibility
SAD, after parting ways with the NDA over the farm laws, had nothing new to offer for the Punjab voters. The old issues of mining, drug menace, sacrilege and unemployment remained unresolved during the regimes of SAD and Congress.
Even though SAD got a second chance to come back to power in 2012, the party failed to live up to people's expectations and paid the price for that in 2017. In 2022, it wanted to woo back the farmers and severed ties with NDA over the farm laws issue but the ryots were not convinced. They wanted to punish, in the wickedest way, all traditional parties for their worst sins. SAD big guns Parkash Singh Badal (ex-CM), his son Sukhbir Sigh Badal (ex-deputy CM) and Sukhbir's brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia (former minister) were routed.
A few months after AAP first tasted power in Delhi, the party had opened its account in Lok Sabha by winning four seats from Punjab in May 2014, surprising many in its own fold. Delhi has a sizeable chunk of Sikh voters, who have family and religious bonds with Punjab.
AAP's first victory in Delhi had a ripple effect in Punjab in 2014 LS polls itself. In 2022, when voters were desperately looking for an alternative, they did not have to think twice as AAP had already established its own style of governance in the Capital.
The party's announcement in the manifesto of Rs 1000 allowance to all women of above 18 years immediately struck a chord with the voters.
With this landslide win, Bhagwant Singh Mann will be the CM of a state much bigger than Delhi. In a way, he has outgrown his guru Arvind Kejriwal in stature. Will Mann be man enough to handle this responsibility?