Chandigarh: Going against the overwhelming trend in almost all north Indian states, the Congress has won eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, a state where it came back to power since 2017.
The mandate has reaffirmed the voters’ faith in the leadership of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who had led the Congress to a stunning victory in the 2017 assembly polls. It has also reiterated that Punjab continues to be free of the ‘Modi wave’, which has once again swept across the rest of India.
The BJP’s footprint in the state remains limited to the three seats it shares with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), two of which — Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur — it has won this time.
The other reason why the ‘Modi magic’ has failed to work is because the BJP’s alliance partners, the Akalis, continue to be unpopular. The SAD lost eight of the 10 seats it contested, with only Badal family members Harsimrat Kaur and husband Sukhbir Singh Badal winning in Bathinda and Firozpur respectively.
Voters have also rejected the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in which a huge number of them had reposed their faith in 2014. Only Bhagwant Mann, the party’s state chief, has managed to retain his Sangrur seat.
In 2014, the Congress had won four seats, the SAD-BJP combine won five and the AAP, which was making its debut, had surprised all with four seats.
As many as 268 candidates were in the fray for the state’s 13 seats, and nearly 66 per cent of the 2.09 crore electorate cast their votes on 19 May.
Another boost for Amarinder
In these elections, the Congress has been the biggest gainer. The results are, in a sense, a continuation of the anti-NDA mood of Punjab’s electorate, which had surfaced in the 2017 assembly elections, in which the Congress had won 77 out of the 117 seats. The SAD-BJP combine, which ruled the state for 10 years, had finished a poor third, winning only 18 seats.
Modi has never been a factor in Punjab, and this unique situation continues in the border state, despite his nationalistic campaign. Most of the constituencies which have a substantial urban population have voted for the Congress.
The result comes as a big boost to the leadership of Amarinder, considered to be a strong leader independent of the high command in New Delhi.
What has also given a fillip to Amarinder’s image is his wife Preneet Kaur wresting the family’s home seat of Patiala from the AAP. She had suffered a humiliating defeat in 2014 to AAP’s Dr Dharamvira Gandhi. Gandhi was contesting as the sole candidate of his party (NWPP), and another loss this time for Kaur would also have meant a loss of face for the CM.
SAD still struggling
The SAD’s defeat on eight seats indicates that the party has not revived as much as expected after its poor performance in the assembly polls.
The Akalis had touched new low last year when the Badals were held responsible for the 2015 cases of the desecration of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The party split into two, with its old guard breaking away to form a new political outfit. The Badal family resorted to apologising at the Golden Temple for its acts of omission and commission.
These Lok Sabha elections put the SAD’s popularity to test, with the Congress making the sacrilege issue the mainstay of its campaign. The issue did not seem to resonate much with the voters, since the two members of the Badal family who did fight the elections won.
AAP the biggest loser
The biggest loser in these elections has been the AAP, with the Congress victorious in three seats it had won last time. Mann’s victory meant the Arvind Kejriwal-led party at least opened its account in the Lok Sabha, since it drew a blank in Delhi, which it has ruled since 2015.
Punjab was once seen as fertile ground for the AAP to conquer after Delhi. The party was the hot favourite ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, but lost the plot on the eve of the polls, gathering only 20 of the 117 seats in the assembly. However, it managed to do enough to be the main opposition party in the Vidhan Sabha.
Last year, the party split after half a dozen of its MLAs moved away from the Delhi-centric leadership, creating their own political outfit. Two of its MLAs joined the Congress on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections.