Baisakhi: When a Festival Becomes An Excuse For an Election Rally
To take advantage of the huge gatherings, political parties organise religio-political rallies at Talwandi Sabo.
It was on Baisakhi day in 1699 that the tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Khalsa Panth at Anandpur Sahib by baptising Panj Pyaras. Baisakhi, which is celebrated on 13 April every year as per the Nanakshahi calendar, is therefore considered one of the most auspicious days of the year for the Sikhs.
As part of tradition, and to take advantage of the huge gatherings, political parties organise political ‘conferences’ or religio-political rallies at Talwandi Sabo.
This year, the political conferences at Talwandi Sabo – where various parties set up stages – were a little more prestigious, in view of the ensuing Assembly elections. Evidently, the political leaders stretched all their resources to put on a grand show.
Mela of Rallies
For the Congress, it was an opportunity to show unity among its leaders after the recent expulsion of two prominent dissidents – former MP Jagmeet Brar and a former Deputy Speaker of Punjab Assembly Bir Devender Singh. Both had been highly critical of state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh.
Action was taken against them after a lot of dilly-dallying, which gave the impression that the Congress was reluctant to lose leaders at this stage. However, this time, the party reportedly acted decisively on the suggestion of its advisor, Prashant Kishor.
It was also the first time that the recent inductee to the party, Manpreet Singh Badal, former finance minister and estranged cousin of Sukhbir Badal, was given the responsibility of organising the rally. By all accounts, he did a good job.
Captain Amarinder also received a shot in the arm with most top leaders – including Ambika Soni and Sunil Jakhar – attending the rally.
The rally organised by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) too was well-attended. This was partly due to the directive given by Sukhbir Badal to Akali leaders to ensure a good attendance.
He gave instructions to ensure that workers do not walk over to the rally organised by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as had happened last time at the Maghi Mela. He asked all those present to take a pledge that they would not allow AAP and Congress to come to power.
Sukhbir and his father, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, mainly relied on giving themselves a pat on the back for ‘spectacular progress’ during the last nine years of their rule.
The Akalis harped on issues like the SYL Canal and their resolve not to give water to Haryana. They sought credit for annulling the agreements and sealing the issue by ordering restoration of land acquired for the project back to the farmers.
Threat From AAP
The main target for the Congress, as well as the SAD, remained the AAP, which again appeared to have managed better strength than its rivals. It is all the more significant that it was achieved despite the absence of party supremo Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia, who were expected to attend this time.
The speakers including the party’s state chief Sucha Singh Chhotepur emphasised on development and the need to eradicate the menace of drugs from the state.
The SAD (Amritsar) also organised a rally which was addressed by some of the radical leaders. However, it did not elicit any great response. The party decided to call for a Sarbat Khalsa on the same day as last year – 10 November.
While the Sarbat Khalsa had received a good response last year, most of those who attended had reservations on the decision to nominate hardliners as jathedars of the five holy Takhts of the Sikhs.
It was believed that the radicals had forced their agenda on the people, who had gathered mainly to oppose the Badal government and protest the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib.
As a result, there was poor response at a subsequent bhog ceremony organised by the hardliners.
With the Baisakhi mela out of the way, the political parties now plan to organise mass contact programmes and smaller rallies in small towns and villages.
The AAP is already way ahead of its rivals in this regard, having formed ward-wise committees and completed the first phase of its parivar jodo programme. The party leaders say they have already contacted about 15 lakh households and would continue their programme to interact with more households.
Poll Bugle for 2017
For the Congress, Prashant Kishor has already drawn up an action plan to project the state party chief Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab-da-Captain.
The party is organising his interaction with students and other groups across the state, and is also appointing student ‘captains’ in each town. It has also started a programme called Coffee with Captain.
The SAD and its alliance partner, the BJP, have drawn out a plan to start a mass contact programme and unleash a massive advertising campaign highlighting their achievements.
All in all, the state has already seen a running start in the elections, even polling is still 10 months away. There are reports, however, that the ruling partners may take the plunge earlier – basking in the glory of annulling water agreements – to catch the rivals unprepared.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)
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