It’s easy to read meaning into the white flags of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fluttering atop a house opposite Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh’s ancestral home at Khatkar Kalan village. You are about to make your inference when youngsters flying kites in the park across the road tell you they are proud Akalis. The flags, they claim, have been put up on the instructions of the owner’s well-heeled NRI relatives.
Be it the AAP’s Bhagwant Mann, who claims his yellow turban and “inquilab zindabad (long live revolution) ” are a tribute to the martyr; or the Shiromani Akali Dal, which is building a bigger and fancier museum in his memory; or Congress’ CM candidate Capt Amarinder Singh, who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to name the international airport at Chandigarh after Bhagat Singh — there is no political party in the state which hasn’t tried to claim the legacy of Shaheed-e-Azam. Yet, his village defies any political stereotype.
Sukhjinder Singh, 19, with just a shadow of a beard, boasts that the entire village will vote for the Akali Dal as Parkinder Singh, son of the village’s Akali sarpanch Sukhwinder Singh, nods. A little away, Sandeep Singh, a painter, tells you how the park used to be a dirty pond until the Akalis got it filled up. “All blue card holders (food subsidy beneficiaries) here will vote for them,” he adds.
Thanks to the martyr, the village is a model of development with smooth roads, uninterrupted power supply, a solar plant, gym, library, an Adarsh school, and a landscaped park. Chitta (smack), a much used term in the present polls, finds no mention here. “Thankfully, our youngsters have never taken to it. We have the best of both worlds, rural and urban,” smiles Amandeep Dosanjh, a school teacher. But, unlike the youngsters, she doesn’t see any single party’s wave in the village.
“I am confused, a Whatsapp message I got today showed some Akalis manhandling Prem Singh Chandumajra (the Akali MP from Anandpur Sahib). No wonder people are talking of change,” he says. Later in the day, Kuljinder Singh at Mahalon village tells you it was an old clip.
Mehnga Singh, a welder, says people are quiet because a third party is in the fray.
Amarjit Singh of Ranjit Book Depot in the dusty town of Banga says the contest in this SC-reserved constituency is between the AAP and Akalis as the Congress divided its votes by fielding Satnam Singh Kainth instead of sitting MLA Tarlochan Soondh. “Now the contest is between AAP’s Harjot Kaur and SADBJP’s Sukhwinder Sukhi, an ENT specialist.”
At Guru Nanak College for Women, the votes get divided further with a female student rooting for the ‘batsman’, symbol of the Aapna Punjab Party. But her friend says she will go with the AAP even as two others hesitate before saying they are Akalis. All first-time voters, they are students of BCom-final but admit family loyalties will determine their votes.
At Sikh National College, Banga, Gurinder Singh, a senior lecturer who’s been teaching here since 1986, beams as he says both Congress and Akali candidates are alumni of the college. The youth, he admits, are clamouring for change but he hopes it will be a positive one. “Some blame the Akalis for breeding idleness by giving people free atta-dal.” But he doesn’t see the AAP as a solution. “They are trying to colonise Punjab.”
Manveer Singh, 19, of Shivpur Bagh village in Nawanshahr constituency, doesn’t think so. The first-time voter, sore with the ruling combine after his rejection in the police recruitment last year, says AAP’s Bhagwant Mann understands his angst. “I will vote for the ‘jhadoo’ (broom, the AAP symbol), because Kejriwal has promised us jobs.” Amardeep Singh, who is here from Bahrain, claims the fight is between the Congress and AAP. It’s ditto in Balachaur, claims Bishwinder Sharma, a shopkeeper at Garhi Kanugon village. His logic is simplistic: Akali-BJP candidate Nand Lal is facing anti-incumbency as he’s won the seat four times. “Now the fight is between Congress’ Darshan Lal and AAP’s Brig Raj Kumar.”
While the freebieshave a fan following, what hurts is lack of jobs. Malwinder Singh, a railway employee at Malpur Akran village of Nawanshahr, speaks for many when he says: “We don’t need free atta-dal or bijli (power), if we can get jobs for our youngsters.” That assurance is sure to generate votes.