That’s the bad pun I’ve been hoping no one springs on me. Very few friends have, and well, fortunately,very few English and Hindi news channels and newspapers have been asking this question. Amidst the talk about the grand alliance that defeated the BJP in Bihar, what the Congress can learn from the JD(U) and the widespread speculation of the possibility of the Modi wave becoming a gentle tide, the media ignored the fact that the party attempting alternative politics, the Aam Aadmi Party stood for elections in the 2 Punjab by-poll constituencies, and didn’t win either of them.
While most Punjabi news channels and newspapers did report this quite a bit, I was rather glad that there wasn’t a 9 pm show with Arnab Goswami going “HAS THE AAP DIED OUT? IS IT CURTAINS FOR AAP? IS THE CITADEL OF NEW POLITICS BREACHED?” and other assorted nonsense. Oh wait, he already did that. Grrr.
Anyway. Onto Punjab. Srinivasan Ramani at the EPW wrote a really nice analysis of the Punjab elections in Lok Sabha 2014. He gives us data that on an aggregate level for Punjab and calls AAP, the party overcame the rural-urban divide and held aloft the meaning of alternative politics. However, if one looks at the data in individual Lok Sabha constituencies, we see that in places where AAP outperformed the Akali Dal and the Congress (in some cases combined) in urban areas, it suffered heavily in rural areas and vice-versa. For reference, the 4 MP seats won in Punjab were Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur, Patiala and Faridkot.
This may be partly because of lack of outreach due to paucity of funds in rural areas, partly due to the character, personality and nature of the candidates and their campaign teams, and also due to the lack of a volunteer base in certain areas in Punjab, as is the case in many parts in the country, right now. There is much scope for introspection on this divide. And this is the context in which the results of the by-elections need to be looked at.
First up, Patiala (Urban).
Despite winning the Parliamentary constituency of Patiala, we had lost Patiala (see Form 20: Patiala (Urban)) to the Congress. The votes garnered by the different parties were as follows: (INC) 43238 vs. (AAP) 35674 and (SAD) 16342. The background of our candidate Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi got us most of our voteshare from rural areas, where he is renowned as a human rights activist, a brilliant cardiac surgeon and doctor who has worked for free, for most of his life.
In this by-election in Patiala, Preneet Kaur, the person who lost by just 20,000 votes to Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi was standing for an MLA constituency. For context, Preneet Kaur is the wife of Captain Amarinder Singh, the ex-Chief Minister of Punjab. Also, she belongs to a royal family. There was no way she was losing. And that’s what happened. Preneet Kaur polled 52,967 votes, SAD nominee Bhagwan Dass Juneja got 29,685 votes and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Harjit S Adaltiwala garnered 5724 votes. We lost around 30,000 votes with about 15,000 votes going to SAD and INC each.
Many different hypothesis can be formed about this defeat, including our lack of a volunteer base, choice of candidate and lack of scale in operation. However, there is no way in which 30,000 votes can be explained away by these excuses. It is clear that in this state election, as with many past ones, in Patiala, the overwhelming support is still for the royal family, and Preneet Kaur reaped rewards of the positive image that the people of Punjab have in their state. Secondly, as is clear from substantive reports on the ground, booth capturing, rigging and use of excessive money was used by the SAD to win back their supporters. However, this certainly shows that it is important for the party to re-think our engagement with the people of Patiala and improve on our faults.
Next up: Talwandi Sabo.
In the Lok Sabha election, Harsimrat Kaur Badal won this local constituency with 47305 votes as opposed to INC’s 36051 and AAP’s 15557 votes (see Form 20: Talwandi Sabo). Bathinda, which is the Lok Sabha constituency that Talwandi Sabo is a part of, is a constituency that we lost. So it was always going to be uphill. In the final poll, the local candidate Sidhu polled 71,747 votes, Jassi got 25,105 votes, AAP’s Baljinder Kaur 13,899 and Independent Balkar Singh 6,305 votes. There was actually no loss in our total vote share. There was an issue with our candidate selection wherein our first nominee was Balkar Sidhu. He was then removed, as per party guidelines of not fielding tainted candidates, because there was a case of human-trafficking against him. Professor Baljinder Kaur was our replacement nominee who garnered 13.9k votes despite Balkar eating into, what I would call as the AAP voteshare with 6.3k votes. Thus, while overall support for the party and its ideas went up, this fight cost us votes.
By-elections have always been a tricky issue and they work rather differently than general elections. There is no national theme or ideology to vote for, and in general, de-facto evidence seems to show, that the ruling party uses all its collective monetary and human resource might to win these elections at any cost. It has also been seen that the state machinery has been deployed many-a-time with much success. Thus, while AAP has come up as an excellent alternative for the state of Punjab, it hasn’t been able to use this opportunity to convert on the strong anti-incumbency wave in Punjab, through the by-elections.
I think this is a great lesson for AAP and one that it is learning from. Waves of public sympathy, outrage and anger as well as strong anti-incumbency only go so far. Alternative politics can only be a viable alternative with effective and large organizational bandwidth, along with proper command and control to ensure that our limited resources are marshaled properly for victory.
Note: Any views expressed in this article are the author’s own and should not be ascribed to the Aam Aadmi Party.