The AAP had entered the Punjab assembly poll arena with a bang in January this year when party leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed a hugely successful rally on the occasion of Maghi Mela . The party has been hunting hard to look for issues to corner the ruling SAD-BJP alliance in the state.
AAP raised issues
The AAP toyed with several issues. The party spoke in favour of the farmers, highlighting agriculture distress leading to suicides. It also launched itself back into the slot of the hot favourites through a mega protest march to the chief minister’s residence on the issue of an alleged Rs 12,000 crore food grain scam. Though its own wavering response on division of river waters with Haryana and the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal dulled the initial dazzle it had created.
An exclusive HuffPost-CVoter tracking poll also projected Delhi-like landslide victory for AAP. Conducted in February 2016, the survey shows a consolidation of favourable sentiment in favour of AAP from the same time last year.
AAP is set to bag 94-100 out of the 117 seats in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, up from the 83-89 projection of the CVoter poll from April, 2015.
“This is not coming as a shock because AAP’s upswing was noticed in late 2013 and early 2014. It has further consolidated,” said Yashwant Deshmukh, founder of CVoter.
The latest CVoter-HuffPost poll has the Congress Party trailing in the second position with 8-14 seats in the Assembly, down from the 12-18 seats projection, last year. The SAD-BJP alliance comes in third with 6-12 seats, down from 13-19 seats, last year.
The timings of Udta Punjab release
Out of all the issues that total up to the overwhelming anti-incumbency that the SAD-BJP combine is facing, rampant drug abuse is at the top. In the past three years, the shift in public perception with respect to drug abuse has gone entirely against the SAD. What was considered to be a matter of “personal choice” for the drug user and explained away as “bad luck” by the user’s family, has come to be a seen as a fault of the government, not just in terms of the police-peddler nexus, but also direct blame being shifted to politicians for their alleged facilitation of drug smugglers.
The AAP, aiming to emerge as a key challenger in the poll sweepstakes, has gone all out and hit the SAD where it hurts the most. Its leaders have even repeatedly accused state revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia of “promoting” narcotics. Majithia had reacted by slapping criminal defamation cases against AAP leaders, including Kejriwal, and party state in-charge Sanjay Singh.
“For the AAP, the biggest issue in Punjab is drugs. Under Majithia’s patronage, the drugs racket is flourishing. We will stop it completely once our government is formed and will rehabilitate those addicted. Under the Akali Dal government, the land mafia, sand mafia, cable mafia and transport mafia have flourished,” said Sanjay Singh in an interview.
While the AAP has been aggressively harping on the drug issue, the Punjab Congress led by Captain Amarinder Singh, has given a virtual clean chit to the government on the issue. It now suits the AAP if a film which focuses on the severity of the problem gets a national attention. If AAP leaders, two of who are actors/stand-up comedians themselves, are able to scale up the issue, riding on the strong voices emerging from Bollywood in support of the film, and revive the debate on drug abuse in Punjab, the issue has the potential to emerge as a key factor in the poll-bound state, much to the discomfort of the Akalis.
Flyover in Delhi to be named after Baba Banda Singh Bahadur
The party in Delhi has put out advertisements in prominent national dailies to announce that it was naming the Barapulla flyover in the city after Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, a Sikh icon who wields influence among both Sikhs and Hindus. The move was made by the government in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of his martyrdom day.
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, who was initially a Hindu ascetic and later converted to Sikhism after coming in contact with the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, is revered by both the Hindu and Sikh communities living in Punjab and other parts of the country.
Introducing Punjabi as third language in Delhi schools
AAP also launched a special campaign declaring that Punjabi will be taught in all government schools in Delhi. In a public advertisement printed in many Hindi dailies along with few national English dailies, the Delhi government ad declared that in order to ‘boost Punjabi language’ in the National Capital, Punjabi has been made compulsory in all government schools in the city. The ad further said every school will have at least one Punjabi teacher and that their salary has been raised.
“In order to boost Punjabi language, Delhi government’s important decisions: a) Now, every government school must have at least one Punjabi language teacher. b) Salary of Punjabi language teachers raised,” the add read.
AAP against Grand Alliance
AAP is fighting the “Mahagatbandhan” (Grand Alliance) of the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress in Punjab. “We are fighting the ‘Mahagatbandhan’ of Akali Dal-BJP and Congress. They are all together,” senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh, the party in-charge for Punjab, told in an interview.
“The people will wipe out the dirty politics of Punjab. The cloud (Badal) of corruption will be cleared from Punjab,” he asserted.
“The Congress, Akali Dal, BJP are all targeting us. All have a common agenda that AAP should not come (to power). They have been sharing power for five years each and have looted Punjab. Now they are together to ensure that, under no circumstances, the AAP comes to power here,” Sanjay Singh said.
The Akali Dal-BJP and the Congress are not targeting each other as much as they are targeting the AAP.
“If the AAP comes (to power), their gundagardi, corruption and mafia rule will end. We will put such people behind the bars. Whatever ‘dhanda’ (illegal activities) they were running so far, AAP is emerging as the people’s first choice to end all this mess,” Sanjay Singh said.
That the AAP is taking the Punjab election very seriously can be seen from the fact that it is ready to finalise its candidate for the 117 assembly seats by July this year though the elections are scheduled in February next year.
“We have a process for selection of candidates. Everyone has to go through that process. People who are joining AAP have not been promised seats. They will also come through the same process. The first list (of candidates) will be out by May-end or June first week. By July we will finalise all candidates,” he said.
“The kind of support we are getting, be it from intellectuals, farmers, women, youth, all categories are giving big support to the AAP,” he asserted.
Much to the frustration of the Akali Dal and the Congress, the AAP is drawing major support from Punjab’s huge NRI (Non Resident Indian) community.
“The NRIs are giving big support to AAP to save Punjab. NRIs did calling campaign for AAP even during the Lok Sabha polls. The NRIs want better law and order and a progressive No. 1 Punjab,” Sanjay Singh said.
Listing the issues and concerns of NRIs, Singh said: “The Akali Dal land mafia has forcibly occupied properties of scores of NRIs. When the AAP government comes, we will ensure that these properties and land are given back to NRIs within six months after getting them vacated from the mafia.
“We will act against the Akali land mafia. Drugs, corruption and mafia rule will be wiped out.”
Kamal Nath controversy
Congress appointed its senior leader Kamal Nath as its general secretary in charge of Punjab.
AAP’s HS Phoolka resurrected allegations that Nath was involved in Delhi’s anti-Sikh riots after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984. He presented at a press conference, an affidavit that he said was signed by the senior Congress leader acknowledging before a commission of inquiry his presence outside a Delhi gurdwara which was attacked and where two people were killed on November 1, 1984.
“He says he was trying to save people that he was sent by Rajiv Gandhi…If Kamal Nath was trying to save people, why did he let two Sikhs burn to death,” said Phoolka, who has led a campaign for years demanding justice for the victims of the 1984 riots.
Kamal Nath has linked AAPs attack to what he called a fading campaign in Punjab. “For the last 21yrs there has been nothing wrong, no one made any allegations. I had a clean chit from the Nanavati Commission appointed by a BJP government,” the Congress leader said, adding, “Arvind Kejriwal is raising this issue because he is losing out in Punjab…we will fight this politically.”
The allegations against Kamal Nath were examined by the Nanawati Commission of Inquiry and the US-based Sikhs for Justice had filed a complaint against Mr Nath demanding that he be prosecuted when he visited Switzerland in 2013.
His appointment to manage the party’s affairs through the Punjab elections came a day before Congress vice president landed in the state and attacked the Akali Dal-BJP government over the growing problem of drug abuse.