Will Messrs Sidhu and Sidhu pull it off against Arvind Kejriwal and Associates in Punjab? Before you look askance, let it be known that Captain Amarinder Singh, like Navjot, is a Sidhu from Patiala, their common Malwa home-base.
That they’re now together in the same party has lent the Congress’s bid for power a gravitas it direly needed. Navjot fuels the Captain’s charge with the horsepower Bhagwant Mann, another Malwa man, lends to Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party.
In the final leg of the bitterly-fought campaign, the winner will be the one who is perceived as better-placed to dislodge the hugely unpopular Badal & Badal enterprise. In my travel across Majha and parts of Malwa, I heard no loud expression of support for the Akali Dal the Badals are accused of having converted to a tightly-held family company.
But it’ll be a gross misjudgment to assume the Dal that has had deep roots in the state, is about to vanish without trace. The party’s prospects are dreary as its traditional backers are at once despondent, diffident and alienated.
The urge to fight back has dissipated among the Akali cadres even as Sukhbir Badal goes around seeking support from influential Deras with following across the state: Sirsa’s Ram Rahim, the Rada Soamis, the Ramdasiyas.
The irony is that Sukhbir and his brother-in-law, Bikram Majithia, are faces that evoke anger; their names associated with the repression, the highhandedness of the decade-long Akali rule. The retribution the people seek against them is as tangible in Gurdaspur as it is in the adjoining Amritsar district.
In fact, the slogan at Majitha, where Bikram is fighting Sukhjinder Laali (Congress) and Himmat Singh Shergill (AAP), is symptomatic of the public mood: “Jhandi (flag) Akali di, vote Laali di.” The AAP man isn’t doing too badly. But he’s branded, like Arvind Kejriwal, an outsider. They insist that every Majithia is a Shergill but not all Shergills are Majithias. Clans matter in Punjab like castes do in Uttar Pradesh.
Akali flag flutters atop most houses even in Gurdaspur. But of its seven assembly segments, the Congress is projected to win five, even six. The Akali candidates there face three adversaries: anti-incumbency and their two main political rivals!
The AAP’s presence in the area is minimal despite its state convener Gurpreet Ghuggi in the fray for the Batala seat. In acceptance perhaps of his party’s dim prospects, Kejriwal hitherto hasn’t invested much time in Gurdaspur, where Navjot Sidhu addressed a big gathering recently. The turnout was more from rural areas than from the city.
That Messrs Sidhu and Sidhu are better mobilisers of public opinion than Ghuggi -- who has lately started flaunting his Warraich clan name -- was evident from Navjot’s crowd-connect. “The audience cheered as he attacked the Badals,” recalled a local journalist. The adulation, he said, is no less for Amarinder in the border belt.
Navjot is actually the Congress’s force multiplier in Majha’s four districts, including Tarn Taran and the BJP belt of Pathankot, where the Congress has good prospects in two of the three seats. His carpet-bombing style compliments the political sniper that’s Amarinder.
As electioneering climaxes, the Captain will spend more time in Malwa where Kejriwal and Associate’s growing presence has come to daunt the Congress. The big question remains whether Messrs Sidhu and Sidhu can push back the AAP tide in their dominion?
The stakes there are way higher for Amarinder to keep his captaincy. The Lambi and the Patiala seats he’s contesting are on the western and eastern tips of Malwa that houses more than half of legislative Punjab.