‘Eik tei monaa, duja baarla.’ In the Queen’s language that translates to mean an ‘outsider with cropped hair.’
A sure disqualification that in the scramble for the traditional Sikh vote in Punjab! Illustration: the religious-parochial slogan was used by word of mouth against finance minister Arun Jaitley in the 2014 election he lost from Amritsar.
Jaitley was a Punjabi who battled Amarinder Singh, a former chief minister who’s also a former Sikh maharaja. If the label stuck to him, the connotation could be graver for Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party.
In that milieu, Manish Sisodia’s call for a vote on the assumption that Kejriwal would be CM was eminently avoidable. The statement, to be fair to him, was carefully crafted. His emphasis was on the de facto, not the de jure guarantee for delivering on the party’s promises to the electorate.
But there’s little use for nuances in poll time rhetoric that’s a game of distortions. Regardless of the Delhi CM clarifying that he desired no office in Punjab, the Congress and the Akalis see in his deputy’s comments a vindication of their portrayal of Kejriwal: a Haryanvi out to grab power in the state in cahoots with other non-Punjabis.
In an increasingly triangular contest, the old-guard parties will brook no hurdle to show Kejriwal as a ‘closet CM candidate’ who’d be an ‘unreliable broker’ in Punjab’s water dispute with Haryana. In fact, the outgoing deputy CM, Sukhbir Badal’s first riposte to his Delhi counterpart set the stage for a fresh slugfest on the SYL issue.
Leave aside the Akalis, Sisodia’s comment bolsters the charge of AAP renegades such as Sucha Singh Chotepur that the party’s Punjab arm was remote-controlled from Delhi. The revival of such contradictions could impact as much the fortunes of its local faces.
It remains to be seen how the remark goes down with the rural folk rooting for Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann in Sukhbir’s pocket borough of Jalalabad. The fact of the stand-up comedian being pitted against the mighty Badal showed him as a chief ministerial prospect. Ditto for HS Phoolka, the activist-lawyer of the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases, contesting from Dhaka in Ludhiana.
Their presence in the fray had helped AAP live down the burden of being a party of outsiders. From the voices one recently heard in Punjab, it appeared the public perception of the fledgling outfit was on the mend -- after the initial high that had hit a low in recent months.
“Aia baarla ki hounda hai...what’s this outsider bit about? What have the so-called natives done for us,” asked Babbu Singh, a farm worker I met in Ferozepur. He felt AAP stood for the poor and deserved his support: “I’d go with them this time... Others who got their chances failed us miserably.”
Such voices weren’t sporadic. Though not as much in urban centres, they were evenly spread across the Punjab countryside. In Amritsar’s Raja Sansi some 200 km removed from Ferozepur, a vegetable grower bemoaned selling potatoes for Rs two a kg and green peas for Rs five. “Unlike my produce, my vote won’t go cheap this time. It’ll be well invested,” he said.
There’s an opening therefore for AAP in the widening class divide. So long as its leaders desist speaking out of turn.