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AAP has given hope to Punjab

Gunjeet Sra
Gunjeet SraJan 12, 2017 | 17:39

AAP has given hope to Punjab

Last year in March, Captain Amarinder Singh had confidently declared that his party (Congress) would announce candidates for the 2017 Punjab Assembly Polls six months in advance.

With less than a month to go for the election, and the filing of nominations already underway, the Congress is majorly lagging behind on its promises.

Despite two long meetings in Delhi over the last couple of days, the party has only been able to come out of with a list of 77 names. The total seats in the Punjab Assembly are 117; thus 40 constituencies still remain in suspense over their candidates, whose names are expected to be announced today.

For a while, the Congress had everyone believing that the party would gain momentum in Punjab, confident that it would form the next government. Some people even started taking the party seriously, but the endless wait for candidates has got the public annoyed and so has the nepotism on which the party runs.

The fact that over 125 party members are still in the capital lobbying for a ticket is a testimony to that very nepotism.

And people are starting to question why New Delhi has to decide what’s going to happen in Punjab. It is a rhetorical question of course, because people are well aware that this is how the Congress has always functioned - a fact they had temporarily forgotten but is now latched on to their memory again.

Waiting for approval from Delhi is annoying, so is waiting for someone to campaign. The Captain hasn’t campaigned in the state for over 50 days because he has been waiting for All India Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi to approve some names from his list.

The air of uncertainty within the party may cause the Congress some distress, like it did in 2012 when 22 rebels from within the party contested and cost it the election. No matter what happens to the remaining 40 seats, there will be some tussles and there will be rebels this time too; and with so less time remaining, it might be hard to placate them 

Take for instance the Dera Bassi seat where Deepinder Dhillon is already campaigning without waiting for his party’s announcement, but there are at least four other contenders for the seat who are not ready to give up the fight just yet.

Then there is suspense over former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who quit the BJP last year and has been in negotiations with both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress since July. Sidhu had earlier turned down AAP’s offer because he wasn’t happy with being offered the place of deputy CM, and although Congress already has him on its list, he has surprisingly still not joined the party formally.

badals-embed_011217045222.jpg
In order to lead Punjab, Bhagwant Mann will have to defeat Sukhbir Badal (right) from Jalalabad. (Photo: India Today)

Despite the usual drama over tickets, the Congress hopes to gain through the tall promises it is making.

According to poll strategist Prashant Kishor-led Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), 34 lakh families have registered under the debt waiver scheme for farmers. The numbers are more than the actual figures for such families in the state and almost 34 lakh youth have been registered under the Har Ghar Captain scheme, which promises one job per family and a monthly unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 for up to 36 months.

Although these numbers might hardly translate into votes, IPAC so far looks confident. But so do the AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Thus the one thing that has emerged in the run-up to this election is how confidently each party is under the impression that they will win a clear majority.

For almost a year now, ever since AAP came into the picture, there has been talk of a hung Assembly in Punjab. The talk seemed to subside a bit when AAP started making inroads into the state’s political system almost a year ago, but just when the party's prospects looked bright, it almost started to implode in the last couple of months.

Allegations of corruption, infighting, lack of big names in the game, accusations of the party being run by outsiders (from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi) and the news that Arvind Kejriwal was leaving Delhi for Punjab (a rumour that was almost cemented by Manish Sisodia in a campaign speech in the state), all pointed to the fact that the AAP was unravelling slowly.

But the best thing about AAP is how it is always underestimated. Over the last 45 days, it has brought itself together and is ready to put up a tough fight against its other political contenders. Kejriwal has already dismissed the rumour that he will be CM of Punjab, insisting instead that the CM will be from the state itself.

Other than that, one must not forget that the only seats that AAP won in the 2014 general election were from Punjab. Detractors may say that a lot has changed since then, but has it really?

Bhagwant Mann, who was being touted as AAP’s problem child, has become its poster boy in the current election, and his rallies are attracting bigger crowds than any other. He often openly lampoons the Badal family and touches a nerve.

He may be the CM candidate for AAP, and his rising popularity definitely seems to be pointing in the direction, and so do some of his comments. At a rally recently, he asked the public if they wanted him to be CM, and when they said yes, he asked them to give AAP over 100 seats, saying “you’ll rule Punjab and then it won’t matter who becomes CM”.

In order to lead Punjab, Mann will have to defeat Sukhbir Badal from Jalalabad which is not an easy feat as the constituency is still an Akali stronghold. But on the other hand, seeing his rising popularity, anything can happen.

Parkash Singh Badal seems so rattled by Mann that he has gone so far as to say that both AAP and Mann should be suspended from contesting elections in Punjab. But why? To be led by the drug-racketeering mafia and the corrupt SAD government or the unsure nepotism-promoting Congress, whose leaders often don’t look beyond personal gain?

The fact of the matter is that this time around, for the first time in years, things are finally looking up for Punjab and it does really have a choice. For years, the state has been bound by a rigid class and caste structure, more than any other in the country at the moment.

These power structures are what have kept the bi-party system alive in the state, where the poor, the marginalised or even the common man for that matter have had almost no representation.

Whether they win or lose, what AAP has done is give a chance to the ordinary to be part of the democratic system all over again and that is Punjab’s biggest gain so far.

Last updated: January 12, 2017 | 17:39
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