There is no denying the fact that the electoral loss in Gurdaspur is a serious setback. Getting less than 25,000 votes is alarming for AAP and a wake-up call as well. But one can always cite several reasons like these:
1. By-elections normally go to the ruling party as the might of the administrative machinery goes for the kill to prove the point that the party in government is still popular. The Congress government has just won a massive majority in Punjab after ten years and any loss would have invited adverse publicity. So by winning Gurdaspur, the Congress leadership has reassured itself and the public at large and offered an argument that the party's victory in March was not a fluke.
2. Gurdaspur has been traditionally a BJP/Akali alliance seat. Vinod Khanna had won three times from here. His death created a void and the BJP was expected to field someone from his family, but the party did not do that, much to their disappointment.
3. Even when AAP was at its most popular, the Gurdaspur seat was not its stronghold. In the 2014 parliamentary election, AAP candidate Suchcha Singh Chhotepur placed third after BJP/Akali and Congress. He had secured around 180,000 votes which was not a good score considering AAP had done exceptionally well and had won four seats out of 13
4. Suchcha Singh Chhotepur was the party's state convenor and was one of the main leaders of the party. During the assembly election this year, serious charges were levelled against him and he had to leave the party. He had been an MLA and also a minister in the mid-80s. He has his base in this constituency and had been active for more than four decades. His absence from the party further eroded AAP's chances.
5. AAP has been traditionally weak in the Manjha area. Even when AAP was expected to win the assembly election, Manjha was considered an area where it would not win many seats. Finally, the party did not open its account here and drew a blank.
But to believe the above arguments as gospel truth would be lying to oneself. Let's not forget that Punjab has been a new ray of hope for AAP and its brand of new politics in India after Delhi. Delhi had given an unprecedented mandate to AAP by rejecting the claims of the BJP and the Congress not once but twice. So when AAP started preparations for the assembly election, tension could be felt in the Akali, BJP and Congress camps. And when in February 2016, AAP held one of the biggest rallies in Punjab history, these parties literally ran into a panic. The media and independent analysts predicted that AAP would sweep the election and would form the the government. Unfortunately, that prophecy could not come true. AAP did emerge as the main opposition party. Which is not a mean achievement for a four-year-old party. Since expectations were so high, AAP's powerful emergence as a political force was discounted.
Even when AAP was at its most popular, the Gurdaspur seat was not its stronghold.
AAP's Punjab debacle has given a clear hint that traditional parties, when faced with a new potent alternative force, conspire to help each other win by transferring votes to each other. AAP fell victim to their sinister design. It came to our notice after elections that Akali/BJP and Congress had transferred their votes. Their shady agenda was to stop AAP from coming to power in Punjab.
These forces tried to falsify AAP's honest politics with heavy propaganda. They tried to project an absolute lie that AAP was soft on extremism. And upto a certain extent, they succeeded in scaring a section of Hindu voters and also a section of liberal Sikh voters. There is no denying the fact that in the modern age, it is an uphill task to fight this massive propaganda.
It was argued then that not projecting any leader as a chief ministerial candidate also went against the party. It was said that in Delhi, AAP marched victoriously because the party had a very strong leader in Arvind Kejriwal whose commitment to honesty and integrity is beyond any doubt. The people of Delhi reposed faith in him and voted for him to cleanse the malaise in the system.
In retrospect l, one is always wiser, but certainly the factors given above and many more may have contributed to AAP's less-than-expected performance in Gurdaspur.
Victory and loss are an integral part of electoral politics. Losing the deposit is also not exceptional. From the beginning, AAP was not really in the reckoning. But it is surprising that the result is so dismal. What is disappointing is the margin of defeat and number of votes polled. Not only could the party not save its deposit, but it also failed to make any impression. This is certainly much below expectations and a deeper introspection and analysis is needed to understand the reasons for such a dismal performance.
I am sure the Gurdaspur debacle will further encourage doomsayers like it did after MCD elections in Delhi but the Bawana by-election changed that perception and negativism. Nonetheless, the party has to seriously look into the matter and corrective measures should be taken and I am confident that after a thorough discussion, the party will take a call.(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.