Punjab election: Disenchantment with Akalis gives Congress hope, AAP a high | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Punjab election: Disenchantment with Akalis gives Congress hope, AAP a high

Punjab Election 2017 Updated: Jan 29, 2017 00:56 IST
Punjab election

Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during a road show for upcoming Punjab assembly election in Jalandhar.(PTI Photo)

Moga/Faridkot/Amritsar

There’s an uprising against the Akali Dal and consequently the BJP in vast stretches of Punjab. The Congress has a perceptible edge in Majha and Doaba regions that aggregate 49 seats in the House. But the palpable fragmentation in the Akalis’ core panthic vote in certain pockets of Malwa that elects 68 legislatures isn’t a cause for them to celebrate; the Aam Aadmi Party a bigger gainer where the shift is led by the right and the left radicals.

Such categorisation of radical behaviour is euphemism, in fact, for Sikh and Communist hardliners. For them, the Congress isn’t a religious-ideological option. Example: the three assembly segments in Faridkot district that’s part of the parliamentary seat held by the AAP’s Sadhu Singh.

Such islands of radicalism are scattered across Malwa, including the other three Lok Sabha seats that went to AAP in 2014: Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala.

The radicals are lending Arvind Kejriwal’s party a decibel strength that might be in excess of its ability to notch up seats. Spearheading their campaign in small towns and in the countryside are motivated peer groups besides jobless, young men known as “mundeer” in local lingo.

I met one such group at the marketplace in Moga’s Lohara village. Who’s winning here, I asked. They flashed in response their mobile sets with AAP’s jhadu stickers. But what’s so special about the neophyte party, I persisted. “We’ve been betrayed. We voted for the Akalis earlier, it’s time now to show them their place.”

Of the five who sported crew-cut hair, only two could perhaps vote, the remaining being in their teens. “We can’t vote but our families will,” they reasoned, walking off guffawing aloud.

One can argue that such groups are there for the fun of it. But not really.

They give the AAP a voluble social presence lacked by the Congress and the Akalis who they berate with parental approval.

A police inspector checking vehicles in Moga’s Dharamkot segment explained succinctly the phenomenon: What’s overt isn’t real except that the panthic vote has badly cracked. The Congress vote is intact but silent. They’d reveal their hand at the polling stations.

In Moga town a short drive away, one gathered from a chat with RTI activist SN Sood --who did not hide his BJP past-- that the radicals’ support for AAP could be a double edged sword. Forever weary of Akali hardliners, the non-Sikh constituents might consolidate for the Congress in urban pockets.

The question is as to which of the two reactionary voting groups will tilt the scales? With rural and urban pockets headed in opposite directions, the contest over the Akali ruins is between the Congress and AAP.

The narrative acquired another dimension as one moved out of Moga to Faridkot some 50 km away.

There candidates didn’t matter, only parties did. And the party with a head-start was Kejriwal’s. The Congress hoped to win one of the three seat on the local clout of its candidate. Explained a cycle shop in Faridkot constituency: “The Congress candidate’s good. But there’s an AAP wave in villages.”

How did the AAP that has no CM-face acquire traction as a party? Easy answer: except the flip-flop on the water issue with Haryana, it has no other baggage from history.

The radicals trust it more than the Congress (with its 1984 past), in the region where the Badal regime used force to quell protests against incidents of sacrilege.

Yet, such micro pictures that are helpful to AAP defuse at the macro level even in Malwa.

For instance, in Ferozepur and Faridkot divisions comprising seven districts with 28 assembly segments, half the seats are projected for the Congress.

Intelligence reports place AAP’s tally between 8-10 and the remaining in the Akali share in the region where PS Badal and his son Sukhbir are in the fray.

Regardless of the AAP undercurrent in rural areas, the Congress challenge could get keener in Malwa with Rahul Gandhi endorsing Captain Amarinder Singh as the party’s CM face.

At a boisterous rally in the Akalis-citadel of Majitha, in the Majha region, Navjot Sidhu went hammer and tongs after Kejriwal, accusing him of enticing him with the deputy CM’s slot without telling who’d be their chief minister.

In the final leg of electioneering, the Congress twosome will focus on Malwa.

Kejriwal will in the meanwhile be in Majha. That’ll make the fight watchable — and suspenseful!