The Congress watched with bated breath on Monday as results of the Chandigarh civic polls poured in. They proved to be a mixed bag and a possible warning sign.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s slip has given some cheer to the Congress. But this has been overshadowed by the good performance of the Aam Aadmi Party. The first such foray of AAP, outside Delhi, has brought good results. And with this, the thought that has worried the Congress is that whether in next year’s Punjab elections AAP could be a genuine alternative for voters.
As per an internal survey of the Congress, the urban and Hindu votes would be as critical for its win as the Sikh votes. Former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh who has joined hands with the BJP hopes to capture the Hindu urban votes (Punjab’s Hindu population is about 38%). In the 2017 assembly polls, of the 77 seats the Congress won, in about 29 segments the voters were majorly either Hindus or urban.
In fact, the Congress swept the 2021 municipal body polls in Punjab. These were the first elections against the backdrop of the farmers’ agitation. The Captain hopes to take this away from the Congress .
The Chandigarh results have been a morale dent for the cadre as these will be used by AAP to push the point that it has become a contender in Punjab. More importantly, the good performance of AAP comes at the cost of the Congress. It’s the worry that urban votes may shift to AAP or even the Captain-BJP alliance that has been reinforced by these results.
This is why the Congress has been working over the past few weeks towards gaining traction and winning over the urban voters. The induction of popular Punjabi singer and ‘youth icon’ Sidhu Moose Wala, reaching out to actor Sonu Sood and cricketer Harbhajan Singh is part of the party’s efforts to appeal to the young and urban voters.
In fact, one of the reasons why the Congress leadership opted for Navjot Singh Sidhu is also to use his popularity among the urban youth to its advantage. It’s no coincidence that Sidhu has been spending a lot of time in universities and colleges to woo the young urban voters of Punjab.
This brings us to the question — is there a possibility of AAP and Congress ever coming together in case of a hung assembly? Both parties have said a strong ‘no’ to this, but in politics, one can never rule anything out completely. In 2018, though AAP and Congress had fought against each other in the Delhi elections, in the end the Congress gave outside support to the Arvind Kejriwal government to keep the BJP away. It’s quite possible that in a situation where the Captain Amarinder Singh-BJP alliance starts doing well, the Congress and AAP may want to come together to thwart them.
But the Congress has also learnt the hard way that the hand it has often held has ended up eating it. AAP and the Trinamool Congress have grown at the cost of the Congress party.
Sources in the Congress say that while it is a disappointment that it fell short in the Chandigarh polls, it also draws hopes from the fact that history has shown that Chandigarh has voted differently from the state of Punjab. A case in point is that while the BJP had a grip over the Chandigarh municipal polls, Punjab voted differently. Which is why at this time, the Congress is seemingly not too worried about AAP’s excellent performance. But it doesn’t want to take any chances.
So, sources say, in the days to come, it’s planning to step up its efforts to woo the urban voters. Many younger Congress leaders like Sachin Pilot, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will step up their campaign mostly concentrating on cities or where there is youth. For the Congress, the danger comes from not just AAP but also the Captain-BJP alliance. The rush for urban votes has begun.