The severe loss of face for the Congress in the assembly polls should force the party to introspect and take remedial measures to remain relevant as a major political force. The dramatic ascent of AAP through Punjab is a warning shot from the nascent party that never hid its ambitions on the national plane.
The assembly results across five States threw up two clear markers that should determine the future of national politics, as the country heads towards general elections in about two years from now. Interpreting the verdict as an indication of the landscape in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored its political importance with the Bharatiya Janata Party retaining the right to govern in four states it was the incumbent.
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That the BJP is miles ahead of any serious challenger to its status as the number one party in the country is to state the obvious and in this scenario, the landslide victory registered by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and consequent decimation of the Indian National Congress in Punjab are parallel developments to be watched how these unfold.
Dumped in Punjab, the Congress found its legislative dominance ending in North India, a scenario that matches its scanty presence in the assemblies in South India. At present, the Grand Old Party is in a coalition arrangement in Jharkhand and Maharashtra and has governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, states where the tenure of the current assembly will end by January 2023. In the past few years, the party’s presence on the legislative map shrunk severely.
Congress is in the midst of a major crisis. Besides losing members across state legislatures the party is plagued by several drawbacks elements of which include opaqueness over its leadership; lacking ideological clarity; absence of any strong narrative to attract voters of Naya Bharat and with little or no attempt to introspect over the string of losses in successive elections since 2014.
Sonia Gandhi as the interim president continues for the past many years without any firm timeline for having a regular person in the position. The ad-hoc arrangement comes amid a widespread perception that persons behind all decisions in the organisation flow from former president Rahul Gandhi with assistance from general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra. The duo’s last gamble to anoint Navjot Sidhu as party chief in Punjab, ejecting Captain Amarinder Singh and installing a new Chief Minister burnt a script of the party to retain power.
Where does the party go from here? For any political party, its strength lies on the shoulders of its multitude of karyakartas who carry the message of the party and its leadership through the length and breadth of the country. What about their morale after a string of successive electoral reverses? If the sweet flavour of a victory lingers long, the bitter taste of defeat stays longer. The ability to motivate workers and work for a brighter tomorrow comes from imaginative leadership. It requires infusing a fresh set of ideas to keep pace with altering the social-political landscape and the flexibility to adapt and correct the course.
This becomes imperative since the challenge comes from the BJP whose leadership troika of PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party president Jagat Prakash Nadda, work ceaselessly and move from one set of elections to the other, in a seamless manner. The leadership never rests its oars.
One could argue the BJP owns a wonderful electoral machine, excellent organisational support and an enormous war chest but to explain it away just on these factors, is an easy way out. In any case, the AAP experiment in Punjab is a study in contrast. Having been denied major space in the 2017 assembly elections when the Congress, the BJP and Akalis closed ranks, the nascent party never pulled out.
Without much of an organisation and constant internal squabbling, the party dug its heels and continued to soldier on. Over a period of time, it tapped the deep sense of anger of the electorate against the style of politics of two dominant poles. The people were earning for a ‘Badlav’ and found in AAP a perfect foil to jettison the “either-or: '' formula that rotated power between the Congress and the Akalis.
Now, with this win in Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal-chiselled AAP pitched the organisation in the forefront of national politics. After its spectacular 2015 win in the city-state of Delhi, the party achieved the distinction of a bumper win in a major state where the government controls levers of administrative power.
Also Read | Assembly elections results 2022: BJP takes all laurels, Punjab's AAP wave notwithstanding
The victory provides the perfect ballast for AAP to firm up its electoral presence in other states including Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat where assembly polls are due between January-February 2023. Incidentally, in both these states, it is Congress that is the principal party in the opposition.
AAP’s and its convener harbouring a role on the national scale is not new. A year after it successfully disentangled Congress stranglehold in Delhi, the party fielded candidates across various constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with Kejriwal testing waters in Varanasi against Narendra Modi.
Buoyed by Punjab and striking modest success in Goa assembly, AAP can take the next steps with far greater confidence and spring in its feet, with the hope it will be taken more seriously than as a party of Delhi. Elections to 7 States with 694 seats including Himachal and Gujarat are scheduled to be held by December next year and another 639 assembly seats across four states before the next Lok Sabha polls. As the saying goes, if a week is a long time in politics, AAP has two years to plough the field before the summer of 2024.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
Read his other columns here
(Edited by : Priyanka Deshpande)
First Published: IST