Chandigarh: Nearly 14 months after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in Punjab, it registered a historic victory in the Jalandhar bypoll, which was held by the Congress for the last 20 years.
The bypoll was necessitated due to the death of Congress MP Santokh Singh Chowdhary during Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra.
AAP candidate Sushil Rinku, a former Congress MLA, won with a margin of around 59,000 votes, while Karamjit Kaur of the Congress came second.
Karamjit Kaur is the widow of Chowdhary.
Rinku, who polled over 3 lakh votes, will now be the only Lok Sabha member from AAP till the 2024 general elections next year.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BSP joint candidate Dr. Sukhwinder Sukhi came third with around 1.6 lakh votes, while BJP’s Iqbal Singh Atwal got around 1.4 lakh votes.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate Gurjant Kattu managed to garner a little over 20,000 votes, which can be seen as a clear indication of the public’s rejection of radical Sikh politics.
SAD(A) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, who is a supporter of ‘Khalistan’, won the Sangrur bypoll in June 2022 after Bhagwant Mann vacated the seat to take over as chief minister.
In seven of the nine assembly constituencies that make up the Jalandhar parliamentary seat, AAP polled more votes than other parties. The BJP got an edge in the two urban areas of Jalandhar North and Jalandhar Central.
The AAP said Rinku’s victory was a thanks to the public for the party’s performance since coming to power in the state in March 2022.
Addressing a press conference in Delhi along with AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann said, “Our performance in the last 14 months has been confirmed by the public.”
“The politics of hatred and division does not work. People want political parties to work, not play these games.
By winning Jalandhar, it seems that AAP has forgotten the humiliation of losing Sangrur, the seat of Bhagwant Mann for 12 years.
From 2.29 per cent in 2019, AAP’s voteshare in Jalandhar climbed to 34 per cent in the bypoll. In 2019, the AAP candidate, Justice Zora Singh (retd), had to forfeit his deposits.
Read also: From ‘Masterji Ke Bete’ to stand-up star and ‘Pegwant’, how dropout Bhagwant Mann became the Chief Minister of Punjab
Nod for AAP freebie
AAP’s Jalandhar victory is being attributed to the stupendous success of its free electricity scheme, which provides 300 units of free electricity to every household in Punjab.
It seems that the other factor which played a big role was the support of Dera Sachkhand Balan which almost every AAP leader had seen before the elections. He has a strong hold on the followers of the Dera, most of whom are from Jalandhar Dalit belt,
The fact that the AAP has managed to survive despite criticism from the opposition over its alleged failure to control the law and order situation and allegations of financial corruption and sexual conduct against some members of the party shows that the rivals have a Strategy restructuring may be needed in 2024.
The bypoll victory has also given a psychological boost to the AAP leadership, which has been lying dormant since the arrest of former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in an alleged multi-crore excise scam.
Kejriwal himself is facing flak over the alleged expenditure of Rs 45 crore on the renovation of his official residence.
Victory is out of the hands of Congress
For the Congress, a much-needed victory has eluded them. To add to its injury, its voteshare has dropped from 38 per cent to 27.4 per cent in 2019. In the 2022 assembly elections, the Congress had won five of the nine assembly seats in the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency.
Although Karamjit Kaur gave a tough fight to Rinku, but losing the stronghold by winning 2.4 lakh votes is a big blow for the party. The loss could be seen as a continuation of the party’s debacle in Punjab, which began in 2021 with the ouster of then CM Captain Amarinder Singh and the high command with Charanjit Singh Channi.
From a tally of 77 seats in the 117-seat assembly in 2017, the Congress managed to win only 18 in 2022.
Back-to-back setbacks in Sangrur and Jalandhar will raise questions about the leadership of state Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Waring in the party, who removed Navjot Singh Sidhu after the party’s performance in the assembly. Election. The defeat in Jalandhar is also expected to widen the rift among the top leaders of the party.
Sidhu, who came out of jail in April and campaigned extensively in Jalandhar, is expected to stake claim for the party chief once again.
Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Pratap Bajwa tweeted on Saturday that the party accepts the “decision of the people of Jalandhar”.
We humbly accept the verdict of the people of Jalandhar. i thank everyone @INC Punjab Leaders and workers to perform unitedly and fight the elections till the end. Congratulations @AAPPunjab And Sushil Rinku on victory. We will come back more strongly in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
— Partap Singh Bajwa (@Partap_Sbajwa) May 13, 2023
Rejection of fundamentalist Sikhism
The candidate fielded by SAD (Amritsar) won by all but 20,000 votes, indicating public impatience with radical Sikh politics.
In the last one year, Punjab saw the rise of radical preacher Amritpal Singh, who within a few months managed to rally radical Sikh elements in the state. He openly advocated the “cause of Khalistan”, and came into direct confrontation with the AAP government on several occasions.
After initially giving them a long rope, the state government, at the behest of the central government, firmly faced the threat they face. This decisive ability to deal with a separatist force also played a role in AAP’s victory. Amritpal is currently under arrest.
Lessons for BJP and former ally Akali Dal
One lesson that both the BJP and the Badals’ Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) could learn from this election is that as an alliance they had better electoral prospects than as parties contesting elections separately. While the Akali-BSP alliance got 1.58 lakh votes, the BJP candidate managed to get 1.35 lakh votes.
The voteshare of the SAD-BJP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Jalandhar – before the split over the withdrawn farm laws – was around 36 per cent. In 2019, the BSP, which contested the elections alone, got around 20 per cent votes in Jalandhar.
This time the combined voteshare of the SAD-BSP is around 18 per cent, and that of the BJP a little over 15 per cent.
The BJP has made inroads in Nakodar, Shahkot and Kartarpur, in terms of the number of votes polled, as compared to their voteshare in these constituencies in the 2022 assembly elections.
(Editing by Sunanda Ranjan)
Read also: What the return of Khalistan advocate Simranjit Singh Mann means for Punjab politics