A surprise win in Punjab may lead some to believe that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may be a serious rival to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024. It is the first regional party to win an election in a second state, and it is set to fill the void left by a weakened Congress.
Mamata Banerjee, who won West Bengal for the third election in a row, was unable to lead the Trinamool Congress to power in Tripura earlier this year and now in Goa and Manipur, which have stayed under the BJP’s control.
According to all accounts, the AAP’s triumph in Punjab demonstrates that Arvind Kejriwal’s welfare politics have piqued voters’ interest. Though the AAP has not been able to go beyond the freebies in Delhi, he has struck a chord with Punjab voters with his promise of doles for women, better schools and colleges, freebies covering electricity and water, and job creation.
Punjabi people were tired of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) family-dominated intrigues. They were also outraged by the infighting and corruption that characterised the Congress’ reign. So they went to the AAP in the promise of a qualitatively better period of administration, just as Delhi voters did in 2015 when they gave Kejriwal a big mandate.
Winning elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where Assembly elections are expected by the end of the year, may be considered as the next best political strategy for Kejriwal, who has so far remained an anomaly as one of the united opposition’s prominent faces.
Without a doubt, the AAP’s massive victory in Punjab will cause opposition leaders like as Mamata Banerjee, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, M.K. Stalin, Sharad Pawar, and Uddhav Thackeray to sit up and take Kejriwal more seriously than they have before.
They have previously said that they are unable to rely on the Congress to act in opposition to the BJP. So far, Kejriwal has been left out of any real discussions among these figures about forming a counter-force to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Apart from Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland (early 2023) will have elections in the following two years, followed by Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan (late 2023). The AAP does not have a significant presence in these states, despite the fact that it has enormous potential to develop and compete with the BJP.
With its victory in Punjab, the AAP has shown its potential to grow in areas where the Congress has weakened. However, in Himachal Pradesh, a neighbouring state of Punjab, the Congress showed indications of resurgence last November when it defeated the incumbent BJP candidates in byelections in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat, as well as Arki, Fatehpur, and Jubbal-Kotkhai Assembly constituencies.
The win also confirmed that Pratibha Singh would continue Virbhadra Singh’s political legacy, as a six-time Congress chief minister who died in July 2021. In the midst of reports of intense infighting, the bypoll results were considered as a major blow for BJP chief minister Jairam Thakur.
In Gujarat, which has been a BJP stronghold since 1995, the AAP made modest inroads in the Surat municipal elections last year. The Congress, which did well in the 2017 Assembly elections by increasing its share of votes and seats, has recently seemed to be stuck in a rut. The party’s internal crisis in Gujarat was exacerbated by the death of prominent politician Ahmed Patel, a close ally of both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
According to reports, Kejriwal and Punjab’s chief minister-designate Bhagwant Mann are planning a trip to Gujarat to help the AAP’s campaign.
However, as Kejriwal is well aware, Modi would not allow the BJP to lose in his home state, despite the fact that anti-incumbency and governance difficulties pushed the BJP to choose a new chief minister last year. Vijay Rupani, a close ally of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, was urged to pass the mantle to Bhupendrabhai Patel, a relative newcomer.
In reality, following the BJP’s surprising victory in Uttar Pradesh, Modi selected Gujarat for his first engagement, spending two days there to re-vitalize the party’s rank and file ahead of the Assembly elections. It’s no secret that Modi wants to “deep clean” the party’s structure by removing almost half of the current lawmakers and replacing them with new faces.