How Captain Amarinder Singh Won Punjab: Here’s the Inside Story
Date: 14 January 2016, Place: Mukhtsar
Ahead of the winters, Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal organised a big rally in the Malwa region of Punjab. This announced the start of the election fever in the state. Although there was an anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Akali-BJP government, political analysts predicted a victory for the AAP pointing to an internal strife in the Congress.
However, with the help of strategist Prashant Kishor, the Punjab Congress laid down its approach and turned around Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s image within a year. Let us tell you the hidden aspects of Punjab Congress and Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee’s (I-PAC’s) strategy, thanks to which the party finally won power in Punjab.
In March 2016, i.e a year before the Punjab Assembly elections, Captain Amarinder Singh's newly formed campaign team immediately coined a slogan – "Punjab da Captain". Since then, the Congress’ entire campaign was centred around this slogan. The party also started working behind the scenes to fix Captain Amarinder's 'Maharaja' image.
Five steps of the campaign:
- Brand Captain – Taking the "Punjab da Captain" slogan door-to-door, at least twice a day.
- Becoming a strong force among the youth.
- Uniting the scattered Punjab Congress.
- Giving the AAP a taste of its own medicine by using volunteers.
- Well-thought out political strategies – involving Navjot Singh Sidhu in the party; having Captain contest from Lambi, the same seat as former CM Parkash Singh Badal; announcing Captain’s candidature for CM; and Rahul Gandhi’s role in mediating internal conflicts during ticket distribution.
Coffee With Captain
Under 'Coffee with Captain', or Captain’s meetings with the people of Punjab, he would answer people’s questions and guage their views on all issues of the state. The team took care to ensure that personal problems of individuals were not left out in the crowd.
'Halke Vich Captain'
'Halke vich Captain' means Captain in your area. Under this initiative, Capt Amarinder focussed on hearing the people’s grievances and helping to solve them. The idea was to reach out to all sections in Punjab. In this process, lakhs came into direct contact with the Captain.
- Number of people he met: 2,57,751
- Total Petitions: 1,79,936
- Female petitioners: 33,920
- Male petitioners: 1,46,016
Relief From Loans, Refund for Damaged Crops
Captain Amarinder undertook kisan yatras, keeping in mind the importance of farmers in the state. While the campaign was on the lines of Rahul Gandhi’s in Uttar Pradesh, and took lessons from the past, the programme was made more focussed. To ensure economic security as well as timely payment for their produce to the farmers, the Captain made the following promises:
- Loans of farmers and agricultural labourers will be waived.
- Sale of agricultural land will be declared illegal.
- Grains will be picked up from the mandi at a decided time and the amount due to the farmers will be paid within 24 hours.
- Maximum recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission will be implemented.
During the programme, Captain travelled around 500 kilometres through eight districts, visited 10 mandis and held 13 big sabhas.
Captain Smart Connect Scheme
Under this scheme, Capt Amarinder promised to provide 50 lakh smartphones to youth between 18-35 years of age, with free data and calling facilities. To avail the scheme, they had to register at www.captainsmartconnect.com. More than 30 lakh people were registered in this scheme.
‘Har Ghar Captain’
To assure the youth of better employment opportunities and to discourage them from drug abuse, 'Har Ghar Captain’ (Captain in every home) campaign was launched. This was Captain Amarinder’s flagship programme. It promised:
- Employment to one member in the 18-35 year age group from each family.
- Unemployment allowance of up to Rs 2,500 per month, up to 36 months till the youth gets employed.
In return, the youths and their families were asked to stay away from drugs. Around 40 lakh youth got themselves registered under this programme.
The Final Blow
Forty rallies were strategically organised throughout Punjab. In the Malwa region especially, the Aam Aadmi Party was putting up a tough fight against the Congress. This is where Prashant Kishor delivered his final blow.
During the last days of campaigning in Malwa, the Congress rallied with all its star campaigners, including Navjot Singh Sidhu. In the last three days, the slogan of 'Captain nou math-2/3 bahumat’ (Captain's vote, two-thirds majority)' clinched the deal for the party.
Eventually, on 11 March 2017, with nearly two-thirds majority, the Congress Party – led by Capt Amarinder – formed its government in Punjab.
The victory was a relief for the Congress, but the Captain has a long and tough road ahead. With an empty treasury, rising debt, pervasive drug problem, unemployment and falling fortunes of the farmers, it will not be easy to fulfil the promises that have been made.
(This article has been translated from QuintHindi.)