The one message that the voter of Punjab gave was that it was voting for a change. That message should have been easy to crack except for one thing—every party was claiming to be the change. The Congress claimed that by changing its chief ministerial candidate, it was offering a freshly packaged look to the electorate; the Akali Dal claimed that it was the change since it has been out of power for the last five years; and the Aam Admi Party stated that it was the actual face of change since it represented a break from the parties that have traditionally been ruling Punjab.
In that Arvind Kejriwal certainly has the advantage as far as the narrative for change goes. He has been promising the people of Punjab, the Delhi Model of Governance, one that would focus on schools and Mohalla Clinics. In the state of Punjab, which faces a high drop out of school rate due to the rising drug menace, this is a promise that has a lot of appeal. In addition, we are living in a covid continuous world where healthcare gets prime importance. In fact, anecdotal evidence does suggest that the AAP has an advantage over the other parties with the voters ready to give his slogan of “Ek Maukha AAP nu, Ek Mauka Kejriwal/Mann Nu” a chance. The catch however is that has Kejriwal been able to make the last mile connect and transfer this momentum into votes? The Aam Admi Party lacks an on ground cadre, most of its candidates were exports from other parties. The key people on ground where AAP leaders who had flown in from Delhi, from Raghav Chadha to Sanjay Singh. And so, while the party may have captured the narrative during polling, it may not be able to capture the vote during polling as effectively. In fact, if the state throws up a hung house then the AAP may well be the first to break since its candidates are all defectors from other parties and owe no loyalty to Kejriwal. That will be Kejriwal’s biggest challenge.
Now let us take a look at the Congress that did manage to steal the initial limelight with its new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. The way Channi took on the Prime Minister during the security breach and the way he played up his own Aam Admi image to counter that of Kejriwal’s did give the Congress a head start. But midway the party seemed to slow down and instead of talking to the voter, began bickering amongst itself. It waited till the last ten days to declare that Channi would be the CM face if the party came back to power, and waited till the last day of campaigning before it could release its manifesto. Certainly not the ideal change that the voters of Punjab are looking for.
The other contender the Akali Dal has been a silent player throughout the election. Ever since it broke from the BJP the SAD leadership has been working on the ground, reaching out to Panchayat level leaders. There are those who say that the SAD vote bank is intact and while it may not be the single largest party, it could chalk up a formidable chunk to make it a player in case there is a hung house.
And then we have Capt Amarinder who is also claiming to be the face of change with his brand new outfit. The only drawback here is that the electorate may not be very familiar with his party symbol and this may even cause him to lose his own seat from Patiala.
As for the BJP, this is the first election it is fighting without the SAD. The party is focusing on the seats where there is a Hindu majority, and it has been wooing the Dera vote.
All in all, this was one of the most colourful elections in the state of Punjab, and though the ballot has been cast no one can predict the result. That is what makes it all the more exciting.