AAP fires up Punjab’s politics towards new trajectory

By Jaideep Sarin

Chandigarh: Whenever assembly elections are round the corner in Punjab, political fireworks are expected. This time is a little different with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a relatively new entrant in Punjab’s political space, firing up the scene and promising to take the state’s politics on a new trajectory.

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That the AAP factor is going to influence the February 2017 assembly polls in Punjab can be seen from the fact that the two main, and traditional, political players in the state – the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the opposition Congress – have realised that the new party is giving them a tough fight.

From being dismissive about AAP, leaders of both bigger political parties are now not only taking on each other politically but are together targeting the AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi.

Kejriwal, who addressed his first big political rally at Muktsar in Punjab’s politically dominant Makwa belt in the southwest earlier this week, went ballistic in targeting the ruling Badal family headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. That the AAP rally was the main focus among political conferences of all parties at the ‘Maghi Mela’, reflected the growing importance of AAP in Punjab. In the numbers game too, the AAP rally won hands down against the crowds at Akali Dal and Congress rallies.

Kejriwal used the opportunity to blame the Badals for progressive Punjab’s ruin, especially in the past nearly one decade of Akali Dal rule. From massive corruption to farmers’ suicides and failing agriculture in the agrarian state to the drugs menace – Kejriwal minced no words to blame the Badal family for all of Punjab’s ills.

The AAP, which still does not have prominent face to project as its next chief minister for Punjab and is trying to build up party cadres in the state, knows that it has already established its credentials in state politics. The party won four Lok Sabha seats (out of 13 seats) in Punjab, making its maiden parliamentary debut in the April-May 2014 general elections, despite being rejected by the rest of the country. Two of its winning MPs recorded the highest margins among all successfull candidates in Punjab.

There are murmurs in political circles that the AAP and cricketer-turned-politician and BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu have been in talks to include him in the AAP and project him as its face. A well-known and upright person, Sidhu, enjoys good support across Punjab. Being a Jat Sikh and a celebrity only adds to his credential as a probable chief ministerial candidate. That he is sulking in the BJP, which has made him almost redundant in state politics, gives fodder to speculation of his joining the AAP.

Punjab’s political elite, be it chief minister Badal, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal or Congress leader Amarinder Singh, have woken up to the challenge being posed to them by the AAP entry into the assembly domain. They are accusing the APP, and Kejriwal, of being an “outsider” in Punjab’s politics. Chief Minister Badal even pointed out that Kejriwal would not be able to differentiate between crops in agricultural fields, leave alone helping the state’s peasantry.

The Akalis and the Congress are trying their best to highlight the “bluff” of the AAP government in Delhi and how it has not been able to deliver much. They are accusing Kejriwal and others of enacting a “drama” in Delhi and not focussing on governance.

The AAP leadership is not taking anything lying down.

Kejriwal and others are openly accusing the Akali Dal and Congress leadership of being “hand in glove” and taking turns in forming governments in the state. They say that the Akalis and Congress are engaged in a “friendly match” to fool people in Punjab.

It is for the first time in Punjab’s political scene that a third force has emerged as a major challenge to the traditional players. With ills like drugs, corruption and alcohol dominating Punjab, the AAP leadership will have to overcome a lot of odds to take a shot at power next year.