Punjab Polls: Kejriwal’s Rally and Amarinder Singh’s Leadership
As polls draw near, political players in Punjab are trying to get their houses in order.
The Punjab assembly elections are still a year away, but the major contenders are already in poll mode. Apart from traditional rivals – Congress, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance – the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the political scenario has added a new dimension, making it a three-pronged contest.
Calculations have already begun on how much damage AAP can cause to the Congress, benefitting the ruling coalition which is facing strong anti-incumbency after two straight terms in power.
The Congress and the SAD-BJP combine sounded the poll bugle at parallel massive rallies on December 15, and have begun campaigning in earnest. The AAP has chosen to kick off its campaign at a mass rally to be addressed by party supremo Arvind Kejriwal on the occasion of Maghi Mela on 14 January.
Kejriwal, who is learning Punjabi to get closer to the people of the state, has even recorded an invitation in Punjabi (see video below), which has been circulated on social media.
Test for AAP Outside Delhi
Even though Assembly elections are due in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala before Punjab, various political parties are considering it to be a critical battleground.
Neither the Congress, nor the AAP have bright prospects in the states which are going for polls before Punjab. The Congress is viewing it as the `turnaround’ elections, which may leave an impact on the Assembly elections due later in Uttar Pradesh.
For the AAP, which had won all its four Lok Sabha seats from the state, it would be the party’s first test outside Delhi. The SAD-BJP alliance would like to score a hat-trick by encashing the possible division of votes between the Congress and the AAP.
Battle for Punjab
- Emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party on the political scenario has made it a three-pronged contest.
- The Congress and the SAD-BJP have begun campaigning in earnest for the high-stake elections.
- The Congress has managed to pacify Capt Amarinder Singh so far, but has managed to keep him in check as well.
- Tough times ahead for the SAD-BJP alliance, which is likely to face the wrath of the people after two terms in office.
The Congress high-command even bent over backwards to ward off a threat from former Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, the best bet that the party has in the state. He had thrown hints that he might float a party if the Congress does not make him the president of the state unit.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was in favour of retaining Partap Singh Bajwa as the party chief in the state and resisted the pressure from Capt Amarinder for over two years. The former Chief Minister, however, emerged as the giant salyer in the Lok Sabha elections when he defeated the current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley from the Amritsar constituency, despite the Modi wave across the country.
Amarinder: An Ignored, but Formidable Force
Capt Amarinder Singh, who’s never hidden his disdain for Bajwa, has been organising parallel political rallies and meetings. In fact, about 35 of the 44 Congress MLAs had openly declared their support for him and would regularly attend the lunches hosted by him.
Singh has been focussing so much on Punjab, that despite being the deputy leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, he’s hardly attended its sessions. Even when the party had marshalled all its resources to block proceedings during the monsoon and winter sessions of the Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh abstained and declared that his presence in Punjab was more important for the party.
However, Singh faces opposition from certain sections of the party, including the supporters of Bajwa. Besides that, the party high-command has put in place other leaders to deny him a free hand in managing party affairs.
Thus, even as Singh favoured an alliance with the estranged Manpreet Singh Badal, who contested the previous assembly elections under the banner of his own People’s Party of Punjab, the convenor of the party’s campaign committee, Ravneet Bittu openly declared that he was not in favour of the proposal.
Bajwa was present at the Bhatinda rally, but has been avoiding joint meetings with Singh. Former Union Minister Ambika Soni, who has been made the campaign in-charge and is considered close to Sonia Gandhi, does not see Singh eye to on some issues.
Ground Beneath Sliding Off?
The SAD-BJP combine, on the other hand, is also facing wrath of the people after two terms in office. Over the last few months, it has been facing major protests from various sections of the society, including farmers and employees. It found itself in a corner after a series of sacrilegious incidents involving the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib at several places sparked off anger and protest across Punjab. Two protesters were also killed in police firing.
A Sarbat Khalsa (Congregation of Sikhs) called to protest the desecration also received massive response. The coalition is also battling serious charges of corruption, nepotism and poor governance with the state’s economy in doldrums.
The third major contender, AAP, too is battling dissension. Two of its four MPs have rebelled and have sided with expelled AAP leader Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj Abhyan. The party also faces a major handicap of not having a credible face in the state and Kejriwal himself may not be able to lead the campaign as he had done in Delhi.
The party recently got a boost with a former Congress spokesman, Sukhpal Khaira joining the organisation. There are reports of some other leaders, both from the Congress and SAD, planning to jump ship and join AAP.
An exciting contest is on the cards in Punjab, and all eyes are on the strategy of the three major contenders in the state. The residents are, however, keeping their fingers crossed over the tendency of upmanship that may disturb the hard earned peace in the state.
Terrorist groups across the border have already made major strikes in Gurdaspur and Pathankot in the recent past, and intelligence reports suggest more strikes in the run-up to the elections.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.