The Hindu Editorial :March 15

Fresh start in Punjab

(Meaning for the words given in brackets)

Congress gains a lifeline in the State, and a nudge to empower regional leaders elsewhere

The Congress’s victory in Punjab, bagging 77 of the 117 seats in the Assembly elections, comes as a salve (Save) for the beleaguered (blockaded, surrounded) party. This is its first victory in a big State since Karnataka 2013, and it took a particularly feisty (Showing courage) campaign led by Amarinder Singh. The party had to fend off(avoid) not just the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance but also the challenge posed by the Aam Aadmi Party, which had made a significant foray (A sudden short attack) in the State in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The results suggest a strong anti-incumbency (Opposite to the holding of an office ) sentiment against the SAD-BJP coalition (Organization of people, Alignment) . In its decade-long stint in power, it may have helped build the State’s infrastructure. But during its second term, public distaste (A feeling of intense dislike) grew over the consolidation (Integration) of power in the Badal family, and there were reports of corruption and high-handedness (arrogance, lordliness). The Congress managed to convert this disenchantment (Disillusion, Disappointment on finding out that something is not as good as hoped, or that previous beliefs were false) into support for itself, building a campaign around the leadership of Captain Singh and the promise of effective administration. The AAP, with its focus on rural areas, especially in the south-central Malwa region following its surprise success in 2014, made a play for the anti-Akali vote. But infighting and the absence of a grassroots presence or a clear State leader tested its organisation. In the end, the AAP was unable to substantially increase the vote share of around 24% that it had gained in 2014: a great chunk of the Akali-BJP vote went to the Congress.

The challenges the Congress administration faces are formidable (Extremely impressive in strength or excellence). It must address the agrarian (Farming) crisis as well as high unemployment in the State. Punjab leads the country in youth unemployment rate, and its urban centres need renewal. The drug problem continues to ravage (a destructive action) rural Punjab, devastating (Sharply critical or damaging) families and nourishing a trafficking (deal illegally) nexus (A connected series or group). The high debt-to-GDP ratio (31.4% in 2015-16 against the national average of 22%) puts further constraints (Lacking spontaneity; not natural) on the State administration. The Congress has no option but to deliver, as its performance in Punjab is the key to its revival in northern and western India where the BJP has won most Assembly elections over the past five years. Success here should also nudge (To push against gently) the party to groom regional leaders elsewhere instead of being dependent on its high command, and more specifically, its vice-president, Rahul Gandhi. For the AAP, the presence of 20 members in the new legislature allows it an opportunity to develop a grassroots presence. AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal has sought to move the party away from its early volunteer-driven model towards a more centralised organisation, with power concentrated in his hands. Its inability to convert the momentum (An impelling force or strength) generated in 2014 into a win in the Assembly election was partly a result of its failure in projecting a strong chief ministerial candidate.