‘Perform or Perish’: Punjab Poll Results Indicate Public Anger Over Unkept Promises

Even AAP candidates who were political greenhorns won against BJP, Congress, SAD bigwigs.

AAP's Chief Ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann. (File photo)

Thursday was certainly a bad day for Punjab's political stalwarts. State Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, former chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, outgoing chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Bikram Singh Majithi, all members of the Badal family — including 94-year-old patriarch, Prakash Singh Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal — lost from their constituencies.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won a historic mandate in Punjab with 92 seats in a 117-seat Assembly; said to be the highest tally for any political party in the last four decades. In the victory march, many AAP candidates who were mostly political greenhorns, emerged as giant slayers. “Punjab is now in ‘perform or perish’ mode as far as the state government is concerned,” says Jaibans Singh, media advisor to Punjab Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and editor of Defence Info. He adds: “The mandate is not for AAP. It is against the corrupt, autocratic, arrogant feudal leaders of Congress and SAD. AAP would be well-advised to get out of election mode and work with honesty. Any attempt to deflect work will not be tolerated by the people of Punjab.”

Echoing similar views, Amandeep Sandhu, author of the book, Panjab — Journeys Through Fault Lines, told Outlook, “This mandate is not pro-AAP. Its anti-traditional parties like Congress and SAD. People have experienced these parties betraying them time and again. The mandate shows people's desperation for change as they didn’t have any other option.” 

Citing frustration with the traditional parties as the main reasons behind AAP’s resounding victory, Sandhu said, “In 2017, AAP had a clear development programme for Punjab. But this time it had nothing to offer. This time, AAP itself was going through churning as it saw many defections ahead of the elections.”

“There was a lot of skepticism about the party over issues such as Article 370, support for political prisoners like Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Kejriwal’s apology to Bikram Singh Majithia (after accusing the latter of being hand in glove with the drug mafia),” he says, elaborating that the party fielded political turncoats in 38 assembly constituencies and about 50 per cent of its contestants have criminal cases registered against them.

Calling the poll verdict “historic”,  Prof. Ronki Ram, who is the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chair professor of Political Science at Panjab University, says, “The message is loud and clear to all those who utterly failed in providing a clean administration irrespective of the fact that the alternate governments of SAD (Badal) and Congress used to provide many SOPs and subsidies. It is also a lesson to all parties across varied ideological lines that none of them can win the confidence of the electorate merely by distributing wheat and rice, and free electricity. People want a quick end to all mafias ranging from sand mining to transport, drug cartels and paid transfers.”

According to Prof. Ram, the electorate shows that the public has had enough of the mainstream political parties. “The ruling classes differ only in names, but resemble in their political designs, gimmicks and self-sustaining strategies to help their near-and-dear ones. That is why the cautious electorate this time saw that none of the dynastic heavyweights sits in the newly constituted Punjab Assembly,” he elaborates.

Punjab is estimated to be saddled with a debt of around Rs 2.82 lakh crore. While several long-standing issues such as unemployment, agrarian distress, drug menace, corruption, water depletion and a mass migration within the state from villages to cities and abroad, remain on the minds of the electorate, the professor says, “How effectively these issues are resolved will be the litmus test for the new government.”

However, author Amandeep Sandhu provides a word of caution: “Even AAP will be shunted in case it fails to perform as per the expectations of the people of Punjab.”