An Analysis by Anshul Lakhanpal
(The writer is young analyst who observed Jalandhar by-election closely)
Despite all odds Aam Admi Party retained its strong hold in parliament by-election by winning Jalandhar seat with thumping margin of nearly 60 thousand votes. The election was of great significance as it had to pave a path for the 2024 loksabha elections. Pertinently, it was death of former Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary on January 14 this year, while participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Phillaur that necessitated conducting of a by-election for the Jalandhar (SC) reserved Lok Sabha Constituency.
The voting for the election held on May 10, and the results were announced on May 13. The AAP candidate won with 3,02,097 votes (34.05%), INC got 2,43,450 votes (27.44%), whereas the SAD-BSP alliance and BJP got 1,58,354 votes (17.85%) and 1,34,706 votes (15.19%), respectively. Simranjit Singh Mann’s SAD (A) got 20,354 votes. Below are the important takeaways for each party.
Since coming to power in March last year AAP led Government in Punjab was in limelight for its law and order blunders, corrupt pracitces and unfulfilled promises. It was widely apprehended that Punjab has lost its trust in the AAP, and the results of the Jalandhar by-election would reflect the feel. AAP however, managed to grab the seat from INC in Jalandhar that was with it since 1999. AAP took lead with a margin of close to 60,000.
What led to this thumping victory ?
Although AAP at present is biggest party in Punjab, yet it didn’t have any stalwart faces in the state other than Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. Out of the 92 MLAs of AAP, 85 are first timers. Due to the MLAs’ lack of standing and experience and AAP central leadership found it easier to control them and keep them on the move during the election campaign. Moreover, the Jalandhar by-election was do or die for the party following its earlier defeat in the Sangrur by-elections last year. CM Bhagwant Mann and party supremo Arvind Kejriwal took led the campaigned across the constituency to convert it into victory.
AAP’s has been successful in keeping its promises to some extent including 300 units of free electricity and government jobs to over 25,000 youth. That helped AAP in the election.
The reports that AAP went to do all even and odds to garner support and it was in the discussions that AAP had had resorted to many hidden measures, like pressurising members of Panchayati Raj Institutions in villages to garner votes, even managing voting agents and many of its were caught acting as polling agents.
AAP also weakened opposition in the state by poaching its prominent leaders like Sushil Kumar Rinku from the Congress, who later became the MP candidate. Likewise Mohinder Bhagat from the BJP, or Jagbir Singh Brar from the SAD. The decision to field Sushil Kumar Rinku as AAP candidate reflected leadership bankruptcy in candidate despite having 92 MLAs in state assembly.
On the other hand Congress party (INC) opted Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary wife of late Santokh Singh Chaudhary. All the big INC Punjab leaders campaigned actively but in silos. The differences among its leaders cost INC heavily in the election as it happened in assembly elections. Amarinder Singh Warring, Partap Singh Bajwa, Navjot Singh Siddhu, Charanjit Singh Channi all campaigned for the Jalandhar by-election but after filing of nomination papers, these leaders were never seen together. The national leadership of the Congress did not appear in Jalandhar either, despite the fact that Arvind Kejriwal was seriously involved in the campaign and BJP had many of its prominent national leaders active in Jalandhar.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, Congress had a vote share of 38% in Jalandhar; in the 2022 Assembly Elections, they got a vote share of 33%; and this time, it dropped to 27% despite having 5/9 MLAs in the Jalandhar Lok Sabha.
SAD – BSP alliance – SAD and BSP both were struggling in Punjab. The voters of SAD had lost connection with its leadership, especially the party supremo, Sukhbir Singh Badal. Although the BSP has a strong presence in Jalandhar, over time it shrunk to a mere shadow of what it was in the 1990s. In these elections they had hope that SC voter base of the BSP (40% of voters in Jalandhar Lok Sabha are from the SC community), and the Jatt Sikh voter base of the SAD would come together and vote for its candidate Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi but it didn’t happened.
It could be argued that Parkash Singh Badal’s demise prevented the SAD from concentrating on campaigning, but SAD could have gained on sympathy votes as well but it didn’t happen. SAD-BSP alliance vote share fell from 20.7% in 2022 to 17.85% in this election. It appeared that the party had, lost the voters’ trust that SAD will take a stand for Panthic causes. BSP, on the other hand, has become a launching pad for its leaders. INC’s MLA from Adampur, Sukhwinder Singh Kotli, and SAD’s veteran leader from Jalandhar Pawan Kumar Tinu both are BSP graduates. Moreover, the SAD-BSP alliance had no visible presence in urban areas, and it was apparent in this election as well.
BJP: In this election, the BJP was able to grabbed vote share of 15.19% as compared to 11% in the 2022 assembly election. The BJP is on weaker wicket after Farmer’s Protest and had no future in Punjab anymore hence performance of BJP could be regarded as respectable. Even in rural areas, where BJP had no presence, it could fetch some response. BJP exceeded the 10,000 vote threshold in Nakodar, a rural constituency. BJP used tried-and-tested strategy in urban areas by campaigning for votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An emphasis was made on the center government’s Smart City Project. With the support of local leaders like Manoranjan Kalia and K.D. Bhandari, the BJP performed well urban assembly constituencies by securing highest votes.
In this election, the BJP did everything it could in a limited amount of time to get maximum results. Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal son of veteran SAD leader Charanjit Singh Atwal, joined BJP just a month before the elections and was given the ticket. He was the only candidate from the Valmiki community, whereas the other candidates belonged to the Ravidassia community. There were six cabinet ministers frm center campaigning in Jalandhar. To attract the community of UP migrants BJP got MP’s like Manoj Tiwari and Dinesh Lal Yadva, Aka Niranjan to campaign. In the last leg of the campaign, the former SGPC President, Bibi Jagir kaur, and the President of the Lok Insaf Party, Simranjit Singh Bains, publicly extended their support to the BJP for the by-election. The BJP now has an opportunity to emerge as a viable contender in Punjab if it shows some patience and builds on its presence in rural areas.
SAD (A) – The appeal from the parents of the late Siddhu Moosewala to not support the AAP in the Jalandhar by-election and the Amritpal Singh controversy were expected to boost the party, but this was not the case. With only 20,354 votes, the party received a pitiful fraction of the support it received in the 2022 Sangrur by-election.
AAP now faces a significant challenge after this victory. AAP had pledged to transform the entirety of Jalandhar if they were to win this election. The people of Jalandhar would be keenly watching what Sushil Kumar Rinku accomplishes in the nine months before the 2024 elections with regards to the much-hyped but stalled Jalandhar Smart City Project, the Adampur Flyover issue, and PGI level college promised in Jallandhar by Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann. Despite being in a strong position right now, INC will need to quickly find a way to bring its leaders together if it wants to perform well in 2024. The BJP and SAD find themselves in an interesting position. The results of these elections show that if both parties had fought together, they would have finished second.
The general election 2024 would have different platform to contest for all parties as the election would have anti incumbency for BJP, leadership crisis in Congress, collations among other parties and development and international presence. The state of Punjab had on little share in the national parliament but the tussel would still be tough.