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'AAP ahead of Congress, Akali Dal'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: February 08, 2022 10:45 IST
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'The distrust of traditional political parties in Punjab is an advantage for AAP.'

IMAGE: Aam Aadmi Party's Punjab chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann at a roadshow in Mohali, February 6, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

"Punjab was largely under President's rule from 1983-1992. The state that was number 1 in per capita income is now at 19. This failure is attributed to the traditional political parties -- the Congress and Akali Dal."

Dr Kuldip Singh, professor at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, discusses Punjab's political past and its repercussions on the current state election with Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

 

The Akali Dal-BJP alliance and Congress have governed Punjab for nearly three decades. How is the 2022 election in Punjab different from previous elections?

For the first time, the electorate in general feels the state has been destroyed by the two traditional parties.

The last six terms of government have been equally shared by the Congress (3 terms) and the Akali Dal-BJP alliance (3 terms).

In the last 30 years, Punjab has been governed for 15 years by the SAD-BJP alliance and 15 years by the Congress party.

Punjab was largely under President's rule from 1983-1992. The economic decline began immediately after Presidential rule. The state that was number 1 in per capita income is now at 19.

The failure of the Punjab government to meet expenditure is due to the debt accumulated over a period of time.

This failure is being attributed to the traditional political parties -- the Congress and SAD.

This is the reason for an urgency and realisation for change. People are unhappy with the traditional political parties because of the problems that have accumulated over a period of time.

There is a distinct change in Punjab this time. In the last assembly election, the response to the Aam Aadmi Party was confined to certain parts of Malwa which is the biggest region in Punjab with 69 seats.

AAP won 18 seats from Malwa, 2 seats from Doaba and none from Majha. I find a good response to AAP in Majha as well this year.

What is drawing people towards AAP?

People are looking at AAP to bring in a change. AAP has never been in power in Punjab though it started contesting election since 2014, hence the ills of Punjab cannot be attributed to AAP.

Therefore, change translates into a verdict for AAP. People want to give a chance to a new party.

In 2017, AAP did not become the choice of the people because the Congress under Captain Amarinder Singh made various promises and virtually hijacked AAP's agenda. But the Congress has not fulfilled that agenda.

This time, a few things that AAP claims credit for in Delhi -- basically health and education -- is being sold in Punjab.

Secondly, corruption is a major issue in Punjab. There is a feeling that the two traditional parties are responsible for it.

For example, the excise duty earned from liquor is Rs 6,000 crores, but when compared with the population and per capita consumption to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana -- these states earn Rs 25,000 crores per annum.

There is pilferage of revenue which people feel has benefited the ruling class. All these give a sense that AAP is ahead of Congress and Akali Dal.

What is Charamjit Singh Channi going to bring to the prospects of the Congress in Punjab?

The Congress under Captain Amarinder Singh failed on almost all fronts. The party brought in Channi to project the Congress government in a new avatar.

The party began using his Dalit identity as a cover for their non-performance. The belief is that the Dalit card will help them regain power again.

That is also the primary reason of fielding Channi from two seats -- Chamkaur Sahib and Bhadaur.

Bhadaur lies in Barnala district which is the centre of Malwa. It is surrounded by six districts.

The Congress hopes that Channi, the chief ministerial candidate who happens to be a Dalit, will attract votes from these six districts.

The Congress also has the misconception that Channi has performed well in this brief period of three odd months as CM.

Dalit votes alone cannot fetch the Congress a second term. The raid and arrest of Channi's relative by the Enforcement Directorate has further increases the difficulties of the Congress.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi with Punjab Congress President Navojot Singh Sidhu, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and party leader Sunil Jakhar at the virtual rally in Ludhiana, February 6, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

How is factionalism in the Congress affecting the party? Punjab Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu has reportedly said that only the Congress can defeat the Congress.

When compared to the Akali Dal, AAP or BJP, the Congress comes across as a terribly faction-riddled party.

There are many factions fighting amongst each other.

The party has been woefully inadequate on performance and is further debilitated by the factions within the party.

I believe it will be difficult for the Congress to come to power second time in a row.

Is Navjot Singh Sidhu in for a difficult fight in Amritsar East?

It is true that Sidhu is a popular leader with mass appeal, but it is not going to be a cake walk for him.

SAD's Bikram Singh Majithia is posing a formidable challenge to Sidhu. Majithia's former constituency is Majitha which lies on the outskirts of Amritsar.

He contested three elections from Majitha and won by a huge margin last time. Majitha is a VIP constituency and comes only second to Parkash Singh Badal's own constituency of Lambi [Badal, 94, is contesting Lambi for the 6th time; he is the oldest candidate to contest an election in India].

Bikram Majithia is popular because he has worked hard for his constituency, remains active and connected with the people.

This reputation is working to his advantage in Amritsar.

The contest in Amritsar East is not Sidhu versus Majithia alone. It is Sidhu versus Akali Dal versus few factions of the Congress versus Captain Amarinder Singh's Punjab Lok Congress- BJP.

Hence, Sidhu is facing a formidable challenge.

After the success of the year-long agitation against the three farm laws, can the farmer-led Sanyukt Samaj Party expect to make a mark?

The Sanyukt Samaj Morcha will not be able to make a mark. The party failed to get the support of the leading farmer organisation, Ekta Ugrahan, which has a presence in nine districts of Majha region.

The SSM was unable to unite the various groups which fought for the repeal of the three farm laws.

The support of the peasantry is divided between the Congress and the Akali Dal.

One section of Punjabis -- irrespective of their caste, profession -- is inclined towards AAP. I won't be surprised if SSM doesn't get a single seat.

The support base of the Akali Dal is among the Jat Sikhs peasantry. Unfortunately, the SSM hasn't been able to snatch that vote base away from the SAD.

The unemployed youth is drawn towards AAP. Hence, it is a triangular contest in Punjab where AAP is ahead of the other parties.

IMAGE: Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal addresses an election rally in Amloh constituency, February 6, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Former chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has said that AAP is a party of outsiders from Delhi.

AAP won four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It was its best performance.

In 2017 they won only 20 seats and the reasons ascribed for loss was the 'outsider' tag and that AAP was controlled from Delhi.

Badal is trying to revive those memories. That issue has no currency this time.

In the last assembly election, AAP did not declare a CM candidate and apart from Delhi MLA Raghav Chadha, all those running the AAP show in Punjab are local people.

Arvind Kejriwal's image appears on all posters along with AAP's CM candidate Bhagwant Singh Mann because AAP's success in Delhi can only be sold through Kejriwal.

There is a distrust of traditional political parties in Punjab which is an advantage for AAP.

As a Lok Sabha member of Parliament, Mann has used his MP fund judiciously which has been noted by the people of Punjab.

His mother lives in a village while he stays in a rented house despite being an MP for 8 years. Hence, he is seen as an ordinary person.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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