FROM GROUND ZERO: AAP, The Dark Horse In Punjab?

Who will have the last laugh? - Sakshi Post

By K Ramachandra Murthy

New Delhi: The polling in the richest state in the country, Punjab, is scheduled to take place on February 4. The election campaign that has ended on Thursday has been unprecedented in many ways.

The contest has never been closer with the Congress and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) vying for the top honours while the ruling SAD-BJP alliance is destined to end up at the bottom of the table, thanks to the double incumbency factor.

The Congress has given a last minute push to its campaign coining a new slogan, ‘2/3 Bahumat’, and organizing 10,000 bikers, 300 dholwallas and 1500 volunteers to concentrate on Malwa region. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also landed to give finishing touch. He had his lunch at a lungar.

Bhagwant Mann

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor, raised the pitch with new set of revelations exposing Akali-BJP government. He said police excesses have been shoved under the carpet by Badal government. Both the major parties face charges old and new. The SAD and the BJP keep reminding the people of the massacre of Sikhs by mobs in Delhi streets in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The Congress leaders speak about Prakash Singh Badal encouraging insurgents in Punjab in 1980 and 1990s as a result of which the State had suffered heavily and thousands of people were killed.

Opponents of Akalis cite the report put out by the US investigative agency, CIA, which clearly implicated Akali leadership in the case of abetment to extremism in Punjab in the dreaded decades. AAP leaders accuse both the Congress and the Akalis of indulging in mass killings. The AAP workers have been trying to bring the Congress leaders, who indulged in atrocities against the Sikhs, to book while trying to rehabilitate the affected families. Kejriwal has directly attacked Badals on the last day of the campaign. He declared that his party would send Bikram Singh Mathija, a cabinet minister, to jail for masterminding the drug trade which had eaten into vitals of the once healthy and vigorous State. The allegations against Badal government stick as far as drug trafficking, nepotism and monopolizing the transport business is concerned. But the high voltage campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the well organized party machinery might help the Badals in saving some grace.

Poll surveys have never been kind to the AAP. In Delhi assembly elections in February 2015, most of the surveys (five out of seven) predicted a slender lead for the AAP. Only one organization, Axis, came somewhat near the actual figure but even that was far away from the mark. AAP won 67 out of the 70 seats. This time too, India Today-Axis and NDTV had come out with survey results showing the Congress in the lead. It is true the Congress led by Amarinder Singh, 70, has visibility. A former chief minister who defeated Arun Jaitley in 2014 elections from Amritsar, Amarinder is a capable leader with formidable reputation. He has proven administrative capabilities and mobilizing skills. His party had delayed naming him as the chief ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi made the announcement last week. Notwithstanding the delay in formal announcement, Amarinder brought all the warring factions in the party together and persuaded them to work as a cohesive force to fight in the elections. If the mood of the people is normal, the Congress should win with the AAP coming next. But the popular sentiment appears to be different. Even the villagers and farmers I spoke to appeared to be in favour of giving an opportunity for the AAP. They are not aware of the way the AAP government in Delhi has been functioning. But they were talking about the ‘mohalla dawakhana’ and reduced power tariff that were organized by Kijriwal government.

Amarinder Singh

Most of the people I questioned during my tour of Punjab said they certainly want a change. The anti-incumbency is writ large on the wall. But those who are in favour of change are not necessarily opting for the Congress. People who have been voting for Akalis for years find it difficult to vote for the Congress. Like Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, the SAD in Punjab is out and out anti-Congress. It never had any electoral understanding or tie-up with the Congress. Its very existence is based on anti-Congress politics. Only one person, a tea vendor in Ludhiana, suggested that both the Congress and the AAP can form a coalition government after the elections. But those who opt for AAP are fed up with the Congress and the SAD. “We tried both the parties which were found wanting. Why not give a chance to a new party, AAP?,” is the popular refrain.

All parties had concentrated their might on Malwa region which is crucial with 69 out of the 117 seats in Punjab assembly. It is where the AAP has proven popularity. It won four Lok Sabha seats from this region in 2014. Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and presumptive chief ministers Amarinder Singh and Bhagwan Singh Mann of the AAP are contesting from this region. In Majha region along the border with Pakistan, the Congress party is way ahead of other parties. In Doaba, the Akalis and the Congress are evenly placed though the AAP has been gaining ground in Akali pockets. All the three parties have network even at the booth level. Though the Congress appears to be leading the pack, the undercurrent in favour of the AAP may ultimately prove it to be the dark horse.

Read More:

Back to Top