The Aam Aadmi Party government is up and running in Punjab with Bhagwant Mann taking oath as Chief Minister. Considering the fact that the state was a troubled one for a number of reasons, the coming together of the electorate to deliver a decisive mandate in favour of a new political set-up should be welcomed. Everybody agrees that the people were fed up by the shenanigans of the parties that had exercised power thus far, so it is likely that the primary force behind the change is a strong dose of anti-incumbency. It cannot be said, therefore, that there is so much support for the populist policies of AAP, though these may have attracted a section of the voters.
What this implies is that the AAP has space for pragmatic governance rather than emptying the state’s coffers to deliver on its giveaway promises. It has been pointed out that these freebies will further burden the state which already has an enormous burden of debt. Judicious financial management will also require better conduct of relations with the Centre, instead of the confrontationist approach adopted by some non-BJP ruled states. In fact, even AAP Supremo Arvind Kejriwal has considerably trimmed his sails after his early years of provoking the Union Government.
The strong mandate should also be beneficial from the security point of view. The allegations that behind AAP have been anti-Indian forces such as the Khalistanis are very likely hyped propaganda, but CM Mann has the political space to counter any such pressures that may be put upon him. He will also have to be careful not to kowtow too much to Kejriwal as he could face charges of being little more than a puppet.
AAP’s Punjab victory has led to speculation that Kejriwal’s larger ambitions would now focus on Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, where assembly elections are due. However, as has been seen in Uttarakhand, Goa and UP, AAP has little potential for expansion where the major parties BJP and Congress still have strong support among the people. The kind of meltdown experienced by Punjab is a rare occurrence. It is a fact, though, that the parties in power will perforce have to take AAP’s challenge more seriously. The voters too may give its candidates a closer look. A good performance in Punjab after the honeymoon is over will have a favourable impact on prospects in other states. Mann and Kejriwal’s leadership will thus seriously be put to the test.