NEW DELHI: Well finally, the pollsters and the media seems to have caught up with what the people of Punjab have been saying for a while now: we want a change, we are fed up of the Akali Dal-BJP government. Much as this is not music to corporate ears, the writing has been on the wall for long weeks with the rural farmer, and the youth in particular, clear that they do not want to give the current government in the state a second chance.

As this was not accepted by the political pundits it became difficult for them to then predict that Aam Aadmi Party was rising in popularity, and was seen by the same disaffected sections as a hope for the future. And hence for the initial weeks into the election campaign there had been a flood of reports of how the Congress and Amarinder Singh are ahead, of how the Akalis cannot be written off at all, of how Kejriwal’s popularity is dipping as he has shot himself in the foot not once but repeatedly through ‘mistakes’ that of course the media publicised endlessly.

The tea leaves were thus, not read at all and the winds of change recognised only now to some extent the media and the pollsters could not ignore these with any degree of credibility.

And hence on polling day it was finally stated by many who did not want to be caught on the wrong side that one, the Punjab ruling alliance is over; and that two, AAP is very much in the race. Of course, the Congress is giving a good fight as well, but it is a known fact that despite his own popularity in the state, Amarinder Singh did not get the support he required from the party leadership in Delhi. And his campaign was interrupted by visits to Delhi to get his candidates cleared, and this demoralised his supporters in the field. To what extent will be reflected in the final tally.

If AAP wins Punjab, its fortunes will change dramatically. The party has been at the end of severe ‘harassment’ as its leaders have oft said, at the hands of the central government and will finally be housed in a state that will give it immunity---at least to a larger extent---from an authoritarian centre.

This in itself will be a major plus for the beleaguered party that has withstood the arrests of legislators, officials and a largely hostile media. Its powers in Delhi have been effectively challenged by the centre through the Lt Governor’s office, to a point where the Chief Minister has been rendered virtually powerless with his every action being countered or negated.

Punjab will not just restore legitimacy through power to AAP, but will enable Kejriwal to move ahead insofar as other state elections are concerned. AAP is emerging as a third party in Gujarat, and a victory now will boost its chances in the state that has been under BJP control now for decades. The Congress has been unable to provide an alternative platform, with many of its leaders working closely with the BJP in the state.

Kejriwal has plans to contest the Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh elections. Himachal Pradesh is a close neighbour of Punjab. So is Haryana where the Jats are looking for a new alternative as well. A victory thus will open the way to national aspirations with AAP using its base in Punjab to move ahead rapidly in other states where there are no effective regional parties.

This hurts the BJP particularly, as in most of the above states the Congress has not been able to mount a viable counter. But a new party like AAP, with a base and a reputation for change that Kejriwal continues to count on, could well pose a serious challenge. In fact, it is largely because of Kejriwal’s effective forays into Punjab, Gujarat, Goa that the BJP started targeting him and the party,and not just because he was in government in Delhi.

AAP is hoping to acquire a national profile by the time the next Lok Sabha elections are held in 2019 and Kejriwal is clearly a man in a hurry with more resting on Punjab than he would perhaps, care to admit publicly.

As without Punjab, AAP will struggle to survive.And much of the mud thrown at Kejriwal by the media and the BJP will begin to stick, as happens in the wake of political defeat. He will find it difficult to contest Gujarat with credibility, and will face further action from the BJP with Prime Minister Narendra Modi having openly set him in his sights. Doors will be closed, and the defeat will cost the party dearly with its plans of moving out of Delhi into other states suffering a serious setback.

A Goa victory will of course, add to the bonanza, and the image. A defeat will be sustainable so long as Punjab is in the bag.