In Malwa, it’s advantage AAP but Congress not far behind | assembly-elections$punjab-2017 | Hindustan Times
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In Malwa, it’s advantage AAP but Congress not far behind

Like the name of his village, Sehri, that means a city, 50-year-old farmer Garib Singh, is not poor either. His village in Ghanaur seat of Patiala district gave the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a 100-vote lead in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Garib says it could be bigger this time.

assembly elections Updated: Feb 06, 2017 13:59 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia during a road show in Faridkot.
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia during a road show in Faridkot.(HT File Photo)

Like the name of his village, Sehri, that means a city, 50-year-old farmer Garib Singh, is not poor either. His village in Ghanaur seat of Patiala district gave the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a 100-vote lead in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Garib says it could be bigger this time.

“My children are in Canada and they have asked us to vote for jhadoo (broom) again,” he says summing up how NRIs are drumming up support for AAP and why it matters in Punjab.

The support for AAP cuts across barriers of religion and caste. From Jat Sikhs like Garib to Dalits like Randhir Singh and Brahmins like Harmesh Kumar in the village.

The politically-volatile Malwa, the power centre of ruling Badals, is leading the wave of badlav (change). It has the bastions of CM Parkash Singh Badal (Lambi in Muktsar), his son and deputy CM, Sukhbir Badal (Jalalabad), and daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal (Bathinda). It is also where they have their business interests — from luxury buses to a luxury resort in Mohali.

The AAP’s main following is in rural areas where villagers cite “dhake-shahi” (excesses) of ruling elite as reason for the current mood.

The culprit, they say, is the Akali sarpanch or the halqa in-charge who “do not give blue cards and pensions”. In Moga, they talk of “Badal buses” and in Faridkot and Kotkapura, of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. In Bathinda and Mansa, it is farmer suicides over failure of cotton crop.

Where AAP matters

Riding high on this wave, the AAP has made inroads into eight out of Malwa’s 14 districts from Fatehgarh Sahib, Rupnagar, Mansa, Sangrur, Faridkot, Bathinda, Fatehgarh Sahib to Barnala.

It is an army of volunteers and a central war room that is monitoring day-to-day campaign has helped the AAP stitch a curious Malwa mix. From restive youth and NRIs, small farmers to Sikhs angry at sacrilege incidents.

Even Dalits, who feel their lot has not improved under alternating SAD-BJP and Congress governments. Some “premis” (followers) may even defy the diktat of the Dera Sacha Sauda to support the SAD-BJP.

Congress fortunes

But the dera prop, and Congress and SAD propaganda of “AAP flirting with radicals” is pulling Sikhs as well as Hindus towards the Congress, which is also trying to win back its other traditional votebank of Dalits.

Though Gurdeep Singh of the United Akali Dal (UAD) does not admit they withdrew their candidates in support of the AAP, he says, “We have appealed to people to vote for anyone who can defeat ruling Badals and free the SGPC from their clutches.”

The Congress is also likely to gain from slip in the BJP votebank of Hindus, mainly traders and industralists who are upset with the party playing second fiddle to the SAD, demonetisation and fear of return of radicalism. Though Kejriwal may also take a slice of the Bania vote. The Congress’ best bets are Fazilka, Feozepur, Ludhiana, SAS Nagar and Muktsar districts.

SAD-BJP hopes

But being in power for 10 years also has its advantages. It has helped SAD-BJP earn loyalties of many leaders and workers besides the official machinery. Some ruling party candidates, including of CM and Sukhbir, have flushed their constituencies with funds.

Then there are also staunch SAD and BJP voters who would vote for their traditional party. With so much at play, will Malwa be again be a ‘zero sum’ game like the last two polls when it did not decide the winner or the kingmaker?