Trust the winner Congress and the loser BJP to read the wrong lessons in the Gurdaspur verdict. And never lose faith that the Akali Dal will not learn the right lessons till kingdom come.
If statistics could prove anything in politics, then politicians could have employed mathematical wizards for micro-tweaking niche votebanks and come up with just the right permutations. Fortunately, that formula does not work in the absence of a politics with people connect.
Congress can fall back upon big numbers and claim the 1.93 lakh lead that Sunil Jakhar managed made Gurdaspur a Chikmagalur, the marker often quoted in Indian National Congress' history as the comeback signifier.
The BJP can attribute it to bye-elections being a monopoly of the ruling party where the opposition is up against the political rivals as well as the government.
This is where the lessons of Gurdaspur are doomed to be lost. The initial statements emerging from the two camps have signalled as much.
There is a lesson for the BJP in Gurdaspur that it must learn, and it is the same lesson that the Congress must not deduce.
The BJP needs to focus on why the charisma of Narendra Modi, all the talk of nationalism, its commitment to save the cow at the expense of Pehlu Khans, and its thick skinned attitude on the issue of launching a massive investigation and operation to find the JNU's student Najib failed to stem the utter rout that it faced in Gurdaspur. The fact is that the BJP tried several local issues, pointed out the failures of the Congress, promised due representation of the area's people - basically everything that any political party should do when fighting the polls.
Amarinder Singh is an accomplished analyst of skirmishes, military and political. He needs to bring his sharp intellect to bear on what Punjab is trying to say to him by voting in Sunil Jakhar in the Lok Sabha with such an impressive mandate.
The problem was that the Gurdaspur electorate also knows that the party has been doing politics with the tricolour, waving the flag in the face of anyone criticising the heavy handed action against university students, asking questions about kids dying in a UP hospital, complaining about the hardships people suffered due to demonetisation, reminding Modi and Jaitley about what they promised the farmers and shrieking loudly about what the GST regime is doing to small businesses and traders.
The BJP thought it need not engage with these issues because these are not 'Gurdaspur' issues. It fell back upon statistics – the Hindu areas, areas where Langah's supporters will help, areas where it has MLAs, votebanks that will come with Salaria's Rajput tag. Privately, the BJP's poll managers just regretted the timing of Langah video and Salaria pictures.
The Congress benefitted in a major way from the sleaze in which the SAD-BJP got stuck, and the general mood of despondency that the Modi government's posturing has resulted in 40 months. With just 20 remaining, the voters have sent the message home.
But the Punjab Congress leaders are doing the party utter disservice if they are taking all the credit for the stupendous win. Will you bet your money whether Sunil Jakhar, the gentleman that he is, believes that the result of the Gurdaspur bye-election is a stamp on the good work done by Captain Amarinder Singh for the welfare of farmers, traders, dalits, women and all sections of society?
Will you bet your money whether Sunil Jakhar, the gentleman that he is, believes that the result of the Gurdaspur bye-election is a stamp on the good work done by Captain Amarinder Singh for the welfare of farmers, traders, dalits, women and all sections of society?
That is a laughable claim, but with microphones thrust into his face, Jakhar actually made Gurdaspur result look like a referendum on his party's governance of Punjab so far. One only hopes that Amarinder Singh does not actually believe this.
It is true that the Indian media saw nothing amiss in a worried-about-farmers Navjot Singh Sidhu dancing to the beat of drums along with other senior leaders of the party. He did not look like a minister whose 150 farmers have committed suicide under his watch in the last seven months.
No one should take away one's right to celebrate victory, but it is exactly in these moments when the statesmen remember those who were left behind in the march of progress. For a Chief Minister who is sitting on a memorandum signed by 40 plus MLAs seeking actual real action against drug mafia, claims of the government having done great work sound a little cruel, even to the electorate of Gurdaspur.
If anything, the Central leadership of the Congress should worry that Punjab Congress under Amarinder Singh and Sunil Jakhar does not even touch the core concerns of the Congress with a barge pole. Not one aspect of Narendra Modi's criticism that Rahul Gandhi took up from Berkeley to his Jumlon Ki Barish speech in Gujarat was even mentioned by the Congress leaders in Gurdaspur.
Read Gurdaspur wrong, and Chikmagalur will return, but differently. Remember what it did to the Janta Party?
Even in his press conference following the Gurdaspur result, neither Amarinder Singh nor Sunil Jakhar touched any of those concerns. Anyone sitting in 24, Akbar Road must understand that Gurdaspur cannot become Chikmagalur under the tutelage of a Chief Minister who wants a bravery medal for the army officer accused of trussing up a man on the jeep in Kashmir, and wants 10 heads of Pakistanis in lieu of an Indian soldier's head.
You cannot speak the language of who you are fighting against. Top political leaders cannot hide behind 'views are personal' fig leaves. (Notice also how the BJP did not make even a passing mention of the Enforcement Directorate case against the Chief Minister and his kin even when it was fighting a desperate battle, not for victory but to find some saving grace.)
There is but a slim hope that the Akali Dal will learn the price it ends up paying for the likes of Sucha Singh Langah. That all political parties have similar "respectable” characters, irrespective of whether they have starred in a viral blockbuster or not, is something the electorate have long stopped tolerating.
As for the third challenger, the AAP will make the worst mistake if it goes home disappointed. No, that will be just worse. Worst will be if it does not come out of the eternal internal bickering mode. There is space for a third force in Punjab provided it believes in serious politics, not merely to hone up as an election fighting machine. Blaming the EVMs is now a joke that has run for too long.
No one saw anything amiss in Navjot Singh Sidhu dancing to the beat of drums. He did not look like a minister whose 150 farmers have committed suicide under his watch in the last seven months. Victorious moments are the ones when statesmen remember those their politics threw under the bus.
Amarinder Singh is an accomplished analyst of skirmishes, military and political. He needs to bring his sharp intellect to bear on what Punjab is trying to say to him by voting in Sunil Jakhar in the Lok Sabha with such an impressive mandate. And Rahul Gandhi should read down the result a little, just as the three men in the rocking boat — Modi, Shah and Jaitley — need to amplify the message for the benefit of their party cadre.
Read Gurdaspur wrong, and Chikmagalur will return, but differently. Remember what it did to the Janta Party?
P.S. As for those adamant on statistical analysis, here is a figure to remember. Amarinder Singh came to power in March 2017 with 38.5 per cent vote share, down from 40.11 per cent the Congress had secured in 2012. Never in Gujarat has the Congress share dropped below 38 per cent in Modi’s time. So, today, Punjab Congress is at the same level where the party is in Gujarat. How’s that for some sobering up?
*(Kamjaat Singh is an academic activist who also dabbles in journalism and writes under this pseudonym. The author, whose interests encompass politics, media, communication, academics, law, cinema etc., will be writing regularly for Punjab Today, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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