Even as the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) failed to open its account even in its stronghold Delhi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, people of Punjab gave the party new hope as AAP managed to win four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats (Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur and Patiala) and also put up a good show in most of the remaining seats.
But four years down the line, AAP appears to have lost steam, specially after the February 2017 Assembly polls which saw the party emerge as the main Opposition party ahead of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine.
By winning 20 Assembly seats, AAP fell way behind the Congress – which won 77 – despite being seen running neck-and-neck with the grand old party in the run up to the Assembly polls.
With a string of AAP leaders and office-bearers joining rival parties post the Assembly polls, AAP has failed to live up to the tag of being the main Opposition party in the state.
Be it the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll or the civic body elections, AAP faced humiliating defeats with a sharp decline in its vote share registered during the general elections and Assembly polls.
The Shahkot bypoll result is the latest proof of AAP’s dwindling graph in Punjab politics. The party candidate, Rattan Singh, polled just 1900 votes as compared to 40,911 polled by AAP candidate Amarjit Singh Mehatpur in the 2017 polls.
This loss of over 39,000 AAP votes clearly helped the Congress candidate Hardev Singh Ladi in defeating the SAD candidate, Naib Singh Kohar, by a margin of 38,802 votes even as the Akali Dal candidate polled just 2,913 votes less than in 2017.
The story was not any different in the recent municipal corporation elections of Jalandhar, Amritsar, and Patiala. Of the 225 wards in these corporations, the party managed to field only 149 candidates and failed to win a single seat. Likewise, in polls for 29 municipal councils and nagar panchayats, AAP won just one of the 414 wards.
AAP candidate Suresh Khajuria lost his deposit in the bypoll for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat as he polled only 23,579 votes. With such dismal performances in the past one year, the question is already being raised by AAP’s rivals if the party has ceased to exist in Punjab.
Several party leaders, including in Shahkot, have left AAP in order to join SAD or the Congress as party appears directionless and faction ridden. To make it worse, AAP’s national leadership too has failed to resolve the differences between senior leaders in the state and lift the morale of the workers.
Blaming en-masse shift in AAP vote to the Congress for its defeat in Shahkot, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the Akali Dal retained the party vote share in the Shahkot by-election to emerge as the principal opposition party.
He said in direct contrast, AAP faced a total collapse in the by-election with the party barely polling 1.5 per cent of the vote share by polling 1,900 votes, only slightly more than the vote share under NOTA as well as that polled by SAD (Amritsar).
“The state of AAP can be measured from the fact that it did not even open its account in many villages. It has ceased to exist as a political entity in Punjab,” he added.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said AAP has completely lost the script and was no longer relevant in the country’s political arena. He advised AAP to pack its bags and leave Punjab instead of continuing to shame itself with such shocking electoral defeats.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said the people of Punjab have not forgiven AAP as it has cheated them. He alleged AAP has been hand in glove with Akali Dal and Arvind Kejriwal seeking an apology from SAD leader Bikram Majithia was a just a farce. Now people have come to know the real face of AAP and the NRIs have also deserted them after they came to know their actual motives, as they preached alternative politics.
Reacting on the party’s defeat, the co-president of AAP Dr Balbir Singh said the party will discuss it with the volunteers and office-bearers to find out what went wrong. He said new plans and strategies will be made to reach out the voters at booth level.
But the party’s problems can be gauged from the fact that while a host of its leaders have quit the outfit, even two of the four members of Parliament, Dhramvir Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa are virtually out of the party due to their anti-party activities, another MP Bhagwant Mann has also resigned as state unit president after Kejriwal’s apology to Majithia but it has not been accepted.
Post the Shahkot bypoll defeat, the rift within the party is out in the open again with AAP legislator and leader of the Opposition Sukhpal Khaira stressing the need for autonomy for the state unit as it had a better grip on the ground reality.
Dr Balbir, who runs the state unit, however said there is no need for autonomy and cautioned the leaders to exercise restraint.