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'Maharaja' to 'Captain': How Amarinder Singh plans to win over Punjab

Javed M Ansari
Javed M AnsariMay 02, 2016 | 21:39

'Maharaja' to 'Captain': How Amarinder Singh plans to win over Punjab

The kingdom had long vanished, but the mannerisms remained.

Amarinder Singh lived the life of a maharaja to the hilt. He had a reputation of waking up late, packing up early, and working very little. His public interactions were limited to a few hours at the most. All this earned him the image of a reclusive maharaja, out of reach of ordinary people and his party workers.

All that is beginning to change, and the maharaja, now prodded by Prashant Kishor and his team of election managers, is making a conscious effort to effect an image makeover.

Through a series of carefully crafted events, they are trying to change his image from that of a maharaja and position him instead as "Captain", consciously playing on the rank he held in the Army before retirement.

Punjab goes to polls in early 2017, and it's a do-or-die battle for both Amarinder Singh and his Congress party. It's essential for him that he leads his party to victory in the state after a hiatus of ten years, or else it could well mean the end of his political career.

There is an added impetus for the image change. This time around, the Congress has to contend with the AAP, a party that has successfully positioned itself as the flag-bearer of ordinary citizens.

Continuing with the maharaja image would have allowed the AAP to pitch the choice between a maharaja and an aam admi.

Gone are the late evenings, spent either hosting friends or high society guests.

Earlier the captain used to emerge from his palace around 11am to begin his day's work, wind up his interactions by 6.30pm and then retire for the day.

Acting on the advice of Prashant Kishor, arguably the country's ace political strategist, Amarinder Singh is making deliberate efforts to make himself more accessible.

To rid himself of the maharaja tag, Singh begins his day early, sometimes as early as 7.30 am to interact with his party workers, and the day stretches till late evening.

Prashant Kishor and his team have devised a series of steps to help Amarinder acquire a more people-friendly and accessible image. One of the criticisms that has always been levelled at him is that Singh is not available to either his party workers or ordinary members of the public after sundown.

The first few months after he took over as the Punjab Congress chief were a hark back to the Amarinder Singh of the old. Access was limited as was the time he spent with the party workers.

Now Prashant Kishor and his team have deliberately scheduled his "Coffee with Captain" events in a way that it starts from 6.30pm and goes on till past 8pm, well past his retiring time.

Similar interactions with members of the public are scheduled at dhabas and eating joints late in the evening to underline his accessibility and negate the impression that he is not available after sundown. For somebody who was known to campaign for only a limited number of hours in a day, it's not uncommon now to find Captain Amarinder Singh mixing with his party workers till late in the evening.

He has even begun touring and addressing the party workers in different districts of the state. The sessions are freewheeling and sometimes even chaotic, where workers fearlessly quiz him on tough questions like his wife's alleged Swiss bank account and on his habit of getting up late.

Not everybody, however, seems impressed, least of all his bitter rivals, the Akalis. "Nobody will be fooled by these cosmetic changes. He has lived all his life like a maharaja and attempts to change his spots at the 11th hour won't work," says Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral

Last updated: May 03, 2016 | 20:28
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