The decimation of the AAP in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll comes as no surprise given the steady erosion of the party in the region.
Chandigarh: For the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which saw Punjab as its karma bhoomi after New Delhi, the Gurdaspur bypoll brings only bad news. Never a strong force in Majha (the border districts), the party’s presence has been virtually decimated in Gurdaspur with their candidate Suresh Khajuria getting a little over 23,000 votes.
This is down from a creditable 1.77 lakh votes the party’s former state president Sucha Singh Chhotepur secured in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. AAP went on to throw Chhotepur out of the party following an alleged ‘corruption sting’ against him and he, in return, ensured that the party’s base in Majha is eroded.
AAP’s national presence had taken the Punjab route. The state gave the party its four MPs in 2014 with comedian-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann, managing a historic margin of over 2.1 lakh votes in Sangrur. The party also remained the hot favourite in the run up to the assembly polls, but lost the plot towards the end of its year-long campaign.
The AAP leadership, which reported directly to party supremo Arvind Kejriwal, was mired in allegations of corruption. Their arrogance in the choice of candidates and treatment of local leaders alienated the party’s volunteers and workers. In the assembly elections, Punjab rejected them with as much force as it had welcomed them in 2014.
The Delhi leadership, which seemed to be interested in the state only if it won Punjab, has shown little interest in what is happening in the state since then. It is the main opposition party and after a brief tussle between MLAs H.S. Phoolka — who was chosen as the leader of the opposition — and Sukhpal Khaira, who is now the leader of the opposition, the party has not really made its presence felt in the state. Arvind Kejriwal has not visited the state and for these elections too, only local leaders campaigned for Khajuria.
The party’s position in Gurdaspur and the rest of Majha is also weak because of the treatment it meted out to Chhotepur. From Gurdaspur, Chhotepur led the party from the parliamentary polls until months before the state elections. He was however, unceremoniously removed. The allegations were never proved, nor did the party make the sting against him public.
Almost the entire district and block-level leadership of the AAP resigned following Chhotepur’s removal in August 2016. Chhotepur was also one of the main links of the AAP with Punjabi NRIs, and once that broke the blind support that the party had from deep-pocketed NRIs was shaken. The AAP in Gurdaspur lay in tatters even as Chhotepur formed his own political outfit.
In the assembly segments which constitute the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, AAP did not win in a single segment in the state polls. In Batala, where the party had fielded its now estranged state chief Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi and he secured over 34,000 votes, Khajuria today barely managed to get 3,000 votes.