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Revealing AAP's Punjab polls strategy, how Kejriwal hopes to win

Ankit Tyagi
Ankit TyagiApr 30, 2016 | 19:15

Revealing AAP's Punjab polls strategy, how Kejriwal hopes to win

After the landslide victory in the Delhi Assembly elections in early 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had set its eyes on Punjab. And as people were settling down after the AAP's stunning show in Delhi, recce parties were already on the ground in Punjab, which will go to the polls next year.

Having moved in early and by successfully building a buzz around its presence, the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has emerged as a dominant force in the state, which now, for the first time, will see a triangular fight - between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine, a desperate Congress, and the AAP, which may prove to be the gatecrasher.

A survey done in Feburary 2016 by HuffPost-CVOTER predicted an AAP tsunami in Punjab (94-100 seats out of 117 in the state Assembly). AAP strategists are more confident than ever and believe that a repeat of Delhi is possible in Punjab.

So what has created this excitement around a party which still doesn't have a chief ministerial face in the state, is a new player and has a relatively very small treasure chest compared to its cash-rich opponents.

Moving in fast and acting first

The AAP has the first-movers' advantage. Its Delhi team along with its leaders in Punjab had started preparations way before other parties even came into the election mode. For months, the party had been trying to connect with the voters, and this programme has now started to yield results.

amarinder_043016073757.jpg
Congress' Amarinder Singh would to tough to beat for the AAP, though.

The party has been relentlessly working on two fronts. Firstly, it has been trying to identify the issues and secondly, the vote banks. The AAP's pet corruption plank has had a perfect setting in Punjab.

The people of Punjab are not only fed up with the SAD but also view the Congress with suspicion when it comes to corruption. Drug addiction is another problem that dominates Punjab's landscape and will be an issue in the upcoming elections.

Deploying its tried and tested tactic, the AAP has made sensational accusations of the ruling dispensation in Punjab being involved in the drug trade with the collusion of the Congress, and has caught its opponents on the defensive.

Kejriwal, the party chief and its vote magnet has been getting overwhelming response in the state. He has been visitng the state almost every month, meeting families destroyed by the drug meance and agricultural distress. He and his partymen have been regularly visiting and supporting the families of farmers who had committed suicide.

The AAP has also been agressively but quietly working in rural Punjab, which has been neglected by the SAD so far. Kejriwal has also been making some headway in Dalit and Dera politics in the state. The rural and Dalit voters in Punjab has given a solid potential vote bank to the AAP. Now, at any rally of the SAD-BJP or Congress, the leaders of these parties, more than talking about themselves, have been attacking the AAP. This, AAP insiders believe, is a clear sign of the party's increasing prominence.

Building strong grassroot organisation in Punjab was a challenge for the AAP, which it countered by sending Kejriwal's trusted and experienced lieutenants from Delhi. Sanjay Singh and the young Durgesh Pathak have almost made Punjab their home over the past year. The party has divided the state into 13 zones based on Lok Sabha constituencies. Working booth level upwards, the AAP now has an organisational set up across 23,000 booths in the state.

Highlighting the success of the programmes undertaken by the Delhi government has been a major part of the AAP's campaign in Punjab. In a state with a rural population of about 67 per cent, better compensation for farmers, free water and electricity, and better medical facilities will be the big issues in the polls.

"Nukkad natak" (street play) and dance groups are touring the state, spreading the message of the AAP across the state. The party's trademark door-to-door campaign (parivaar jodo) and agressive social media outreach are on in full swing.

While its opponents have just about started to set up their war rooms, the AAP has announced that its first list of candidates will be out next month, and its manifesto will be ready in 3 months. Political pundits agree that the momentum, at least for now, is with the AAP.

Enter Prashant Kishor

The Congress has gained some ground in the last couple of months thanks largely to one person - Prashant Kishor. The election strategist with the Midas touch has tried to change the image of inaccessible Captain Amarinder Singh to the friendly "Punjab da Captain". The idea is to get the youth rally around Amrinder.

Young volunteers from colleges in Punjab are being used to act as bridges between the people and Congress. Not only this, "Coffee with Captain" is another of Kishor's ideas to effect a turnaround for the Congress. But will these initiatives by enough?

A senior AAP leader working in Punjab told me, though, that his party was least worried about Kishor and his "theatrics". According to the leader, the Congress was losing its workers on the ground, Kishor's ideas were only targeted at the urban youth.

To counter Kishor, the AAP has come up with its own interactive campaign "Bolda Punjab". Senior AAP leaders say that their local units and leaders are strong, and considering the kind of influx of Congress, SAD and BJP dissidents that the party has been seeing, it is certain that the AAP will negate any possible Kishor effect.

Another area where Kishor and the Congress are seen to be lagging behind is in terms of the goodwill the AAP has generated among the Punjabi diaspora. Party leaders having been visiting Canada, Australia and other countries not only to raise funds but increase influence in a state where every other house has a relative abroad.

Having a CM face matters

An area where the AAP may be at a disadvatage and which may have become a crucial factor close to the polls is that the party so far has not declared its chief ministerial candidate in the state. Despite a cohesive camapign so far, like other parties, the AAP's Punjab unit too is plagued by the emergence of groups lead by local leaders. All chief ministerial hopefuls (and there are quite a few) have been giving their best for the victory of the party, in the hope of rich dividends later. Thus, the AAP leadership is wary of declaring a chief ministerial candidate right away as it feels that may derail its campaign.

In a state which has traditionally been a witness to identity politics, the AAP, according to analysts, must find a Jat-Sikh leader to counter Congress' Amarinder.

But here comes possibily the biggest twist in the story. Time and again there has been chatter about the party approaching BJP's Navjot Singh Sidhu or some other Congress dissident, but party insiders say that those coming from other parties won't be entertained if they come with preconditions.

The Huffpost-CVoter survey puts Amarinder as the second choice for the Punjab chief minister's position, with Kejriwal ruling the roost.

Though the AAP doesn't wish to comment even on the possibility or whether Kejriwal's name is being considered for the post, knowing the maverick politician, I won't be surprised if he chooses to take up the challenge.

The perfect excuse for Kejriwal to shift to Punjab from Delhi would be that the former is a full state, which will give him the opportunity to showcase his true talent unlike in Delhi where he is in a perpetual fight with the Centre.

It will also quell any dissent in the AAP's Punjab unit after the elections. It will reinforce Kejriwal's status as the numero uno in the AAP. If someone else becomes the chief minister of a full state, while Kejriwal stays in Delhi, the image of the AAP supremo will be affected.

With the Assembly elections not far away, the lack of a chief ministerial face to counter a strong Amarinder may hurt the AAP, particularly considering that there are still many fence-sitters who would rather vote for Amarinder than the AAP.

Anyhow whether the people of Punjab will accept a non-Sikh, non-Punjabi as their chief minister and whether the people of Delhi will feel cheated as they voted on Kejriwal's name, are to be seen. However, one thing is certain. If Kejriwal passes the Punjab test, the AAP's claim in the national politics will grow stronger, making the established players sit up and take notice.

Last updated: May 02, 2016 | 11:21
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