At close to 3.30 pm, vote tallies on most news channels put the Indian National Congress as having won 63 seats in the Punjab assembly—four ahead of the 59-seat majority required to form the government in the state. The Aam Aadmi Party, which had hoped to break ground as a national-level party with a win in Punjab, has reportedly won less than 25 seats. The Congress was last in power in the state between 2002 and 2007, following which the Shiromani Akali Dal, led by the Badal family, ruled Punjab for 10 years. In his January 2017 cover story, “Under a Cloud,” Hartosh Singh Bal reported on the issues facing the state and why Punjab was searching for an alternative to the Badals. In the following excerpt from the story, he discusses the issues with the AAP’s organisation in the state and where it was faltering.
IN THE 2014 LOK SABHA ELECTIONS, Punjab, ground down under the Badals, often forced to side with the Congress for lack of an alternative, suddenly saw new hope in the Aam Aadmi Party. Though the AAP registered a disappointing performance nationally, winning no seats at all in any other states, it won four of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats.
The turbulence within the AAP at the national level, most notably the removal of the party’s senior members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, has also affected the organisation in Punjab. In the months after the Lok Sabha election, three of its MPs—Patiala’s Dharamvir Gandhi, a well-respected and admired figure, Fatehgarh’s Harinder Singh Khalsa and Faridkot’s Sadhu Singh, all of whom had close ties to Bhushan and Yadav—drifted away from the central organisation. (Ahead of the assembly election, Gandhi floated a new group that announced candidates of its own.) The fact that three of its four MPs in the state ceased to be closely aligned with the party should have served as a warning for the AAP, but it papered over the problem after registering a massive victory in the 2015 Delhi assembly election.