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'Women in Punjab were fed up with Congress, Akalis'

March 11, 2022 16:54 IST
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'The 10% increase in women voters was a determined bloc of voters.'
'They were willing to try this third party, specially because it seemed it had done something in Delhi.'

IMAGE: Aam Aadmi Party supporters in Amritsar celebrate as the party heads to a landslide victory in the Punjab assembly election. Photograph: PTI Photo

Professor Jagmohan Singh -- Shahid Bhagat Singh's nephew, founder-member of Punjab's oldest human rights body, the Association for Democratic Rights, and chairperson of the All India Forum for Right to Education -- discusses the Punjab assembly election results with Senior Contributor Jyoti Punwani.

"Bhagwant Mann (AAP's chief ministerial candidate) is not that independent that he can take decisions on his own without the approval of the Big Boss," says Professor Singh, below.


How do you explain the Punjab results?

There has been an interesting factor in the last three elections: Women's decision of taking voting decisions on their own.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they virtually divided Punjab between three parties. Because I was in the rural areas, I heard many Akali leaders say that this time the women have challenged us. The women were very agitated over the issue of drug addiction and had told the leaders we're going to throw you out.

In 2017, this issue was recognised by Amarinder Singh and he took an oath to stamp it out. At that time, the Akalis were reduced to 15 seats -- their minimum ever -- and the Congress came to power.

This time, the year-long Kisan Morcha made people realise that all these traditional parties are useless, they should be boycotted. This was one factor. Then came AAP with the promise of solving the problems of education.

I checked with a lot of women this time and found they were taking an independent view, not tied to their menfolk. This was a break with patriarchy. The kisan movement also gave them space. Women participated more in areas where the kisan movement was strong.

This time women participated more than last time. There was a 10% change. They also outnumbered the male voters. I personally saw this when I went to vote. The women's queue was longer; one man would be able to enter the booth after two women had voted.

But our leadership remains patriarchal. People could not understand this change because it's been the most silent change.

The whole socio economic crisis in Punjab has been a burden on women. Drugs is a major issue and if the son or husband is addicted, the woman suffers. If her brother is addicted, she suffers emotionally. She's at the centre of the crisis.

This silent wave reduced the Congress to the level of the Akalis. Interestingly, they've eliminated all standing leaders. (Congress leader Navjot Singh) Sidhu and (Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram) Majithia were out to destroy each other and then this Jeevan Jyot (the AAP candidate who won the Amritsar East assembly seat) came and swept both of them aside!

Who could have thought Parkash Singh Badal would lose!

Why did he fight? At the age of 94, when he's not able to move, he was fighting not for Punjab, but for his personal empire.

Was this campaign different from earlier ones?

Leaders were not being allowed to campaign as they used to earlier. They were being questioned about their performance, about their stand during the kisan movement. This was democracy at work.

What brought this change?

The farmers' bodies which had led the movement. They decided they wouldn't participate in the election but told people to question political leaders. Just announcing freebies this time wasn't enough.

IMAGE: Aam Aadmi Party National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal offers prayers at the Hanuman Mandir in New Delhi after AAP won a landslide victory in the Punjab assembly election, March 10, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

Was such a sweep expected?

The 10% increase in women voters was a determined bloc of voters. Overall, they were fed up of the existing parties and were willing to try this third party, specially because it seemed it had done something in Delhi.

They were also cautious of the manipulation that Amit Shah and Amarinder Singh could do with their money. Meetings between the two had already stated; we heard talk of how many Congress MLAs would be won over by Amarinder. The women didn't want to leave any scope for such manipulation.

After all, voting is now a marketplace, wherein you have contractors and sub-contractors. The BJP calls them 'booth-in-charge'. One such leader told me had been given Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) for investment.

Did AAP's promise of Rs 1,000 a month to women help?

Amarinder Singh also promised free bus rides to women.

Instead of giving freebies, why not arrange a system where women are capable of earning Rs 2,000 a month? That would help the economy too. By distributing freebies, you push your state into taking loans.

But AAP managed to have a surplus budget in Delhi.

Punjab is a full state, unlike Delhi. And Delhi being the capital, is rich with resources. Punjab's resources are already depleted.

I have been proposing to activists that we come up with a people's agenda to force the government to make the best use of our resources. Gram Sabhas should express their views, based on the specific problems they face. We will put our agenda on the table.

Right now, there exists no Opposition in Punjab. The public has to be the Opposition. They will demand things, they will have to agitate for these.

The culture of agitation will force the government to agree.

The culture of agitation seems to have been forgotten.

A lot of potential has been generated by the farmers' movement. There are a lot of articulate young people now. The movement has changed the psyche of the youth. They can put forward a logical agenda.

Instead of just having more hospitals, there can be nutrition centres. There can be ways to create small jobs.

Is AAP responsive to suggestions? Do they consult activists?

We'll make them responsive. Now we are dealing with new people. Many of the winners are fresh in politics, we can have a dialogue with them. A lot of them are young, many are professionals -- doctors, professors.

There are already encouraging signs. When the Congress brought (Charanjit Singh) Channi (as chief minister), we thought he would help the party consolidate its base. But we saw Dalits were already waving AAP flags.

The social contradictions that existed at the village level have been diluted by AAP's programme. Their campaign has weakened the factors of religion and caste. This is social progress.

Will AAP be able to solve the drugs issue?

It's an international racket originating from Afghanistan. It can't be fought by the State alone. Now people have started checking, specially women.

It's like in the freedom movement when women were picketing liquor shops. My grandmother was once asked the difference between pre-Independence and post-Independence times. She said pre-Independence women were picketing liquor shops, now these shops are opening everywhere.

One good thing is that all the kingpins or those who sheltered the drugs racket have been rejected. Once people see them defeated, it generates a lot of enthusiasm.

IMAGE: AAP's Punjab CM candidate Bhagwant Mann at a rally in Sangrur, March 10, 2022, to celebrate the party's electoral triumph. Photograph: PTI Photo

Will Bhagwant Mann make a good CM?

He is not that independent that he can take decisions on his own without the approval of the Big Boss.

Also, an important part of Mann's job will be to deal with the IAS lobby. They will silently test him. A lot will depend on the ministers chosen.

The way the people have rejected the established leaders, AAP will have to make sure they live up to people's expectations.

Yes, they will have to be conscious of everything they do. That is why this is the time for activists to organis at the ground level. These asembly-level pressure groups will guide the government. Even if we succeed in 10-15 constituencies, it will make a big difference.

Empowering people is the best way to fight the fascists.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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