It was a captain's knock by Amarinder Singh as he led the Congress to power in Punjab after a decade, notwithstanding its dismal performance in subsequent elections across the country.
The Congress practically trounced its opposition, winning 77 out of 117 seats, leaving the SAD-BJP combine and AAP far behind. The results came as a birthday gift to Singh, the chief ministerial candidate, who turned 75 on Saturday, and had told voters that it will be his last election. AAP, which left no stone unturned to snatch power, finished second with 20 seats. Though the Akali Dal, by winning 15 seats, failed some exit polls, it came third.
"I am grateful to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and every other member of the Congress who have contributed to the exceptional electoral performance of the party," Singh said.
He added he would soon meet Rahul Gandhi to submit his recommendations on cabinet formation. In response to a question, he said the issue of deputy CM would also be decided by the party vice-president.
Singh, who is set to don the CM cap for the second time, promised that his government would take more than 100 critical decisions, with no financial implications, in its first cabinet meet.
He reiterated his poll promise of wiping out the drug menace in four weeks and bringing to book every person found guilty of perpetuating it. Describing the result as a mandate for stability, progress and good governance, Singh listed education and health as two areas of immediate concern.
Political experts believe AAP lost mainly due to the presence of outsiders in the party, which was not accepted by voters. SAD and Congress campaigned throughout that by voting AAP, they were handing over Punjab to outsiders.
Kejriwal's 'not-so-successful' run in Delhi, allegations of hobnobbing with Khalistani radicals, and accusations of selling tickets to moneyed people turned out to be major factors that prevented it from becoming a formidable contender, say political observors.
This helped the Congress pocket a major chunk of anti-incumbency votes. The issue of Dera Sacha Sauda support to the SAD-BJP alliance also led to a counter mobilisation in favour of Congress. "I had always maintained that voters of Punjab are very sensible and had seen through the farce named AAP. The AAP bubble has burst with their outright rejection by voters. The Bathinda blast, coupled with alleged extremist links, also worked against it," Singh said. Reacting to the defeat, the AAP expressed confidence that they will bounce back. State AAP convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich said that the party will receive feedback from volunteers and analyse reasons for the defeat. "AAP's fight for raising the voice of the people and for changing the kind of politics in the country will continue," he said.
Waraich thanked volunteers and supporters for 'making the party so strong in such a short span of time that it could take on established parties' and 'making it the principal opposition party in the state'.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said that he will hold talks with party workers to find the cause of defeat. He will be submitting his resignation to the Governor on Sunday.