In a state that witnesses at least half a dozen protests a day by various bodies, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is gearing up for the mother of all protests. Almost one lakh volunteers of the party from across the state have been asked to reach SAS Nagar on May 16 who will then march towards Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s residence in Chandigarh.
The party is protesting against the alleged Rs 12,000-crore scam in the procurement of grain by state agencies, which subsequently led to delay in payments to farmers during procurement. Establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between the scam and farmer suicides, AAP leaders are hoping to bring the agrarian crisis in the state to the forefront of political discourses in the run-up to the polls through their protest.
Since protest marches are banned in Chandigarh, an actual march from SAS Nagar to Chandigarh of AAP volunteers is not likely to happen. However, AAP leaders are gearing up for a showdown with Punjab Police in SAS Nagar when it stops them from entering Chandigarh. AAP leaders say they are ready to court arrest, face water cannons and do all that it takes to bring the plight of the Punjab farmers to the fore.
Other than using this opportunity to project themselves as the messiah of the farmers, AAP leaders also want to take the lead in the current battles of perception among political parties. The AAP had catapulted to the top slot following the Maghi mela rally of January 14. However, following the SYL controversy, the AAP was perceived to have dwindled in its supremacy. The AAP rally at Talwandi Sabo on April 14 also did not do much to boost the party back into the lead position. A lot thus depends on its May 16 show and party leaders are putting in their best to ensure a massive presence of the party in SAS Nagar.
Since May 6, party leaders are visiting various districts and addressing “preparation meetings” of volunteers. “We have covered Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur and Khadoor Sahib. On Monday, we addressed party volunteers in Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala. The rest of the state, including Sangrur, Bathinda, Amritsar, Faridkot and Ferozepur, will be covered in the coming days,” said Himmat Singh Shergill, the party’s leader from SAS Nagar. State convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur, state incharge Sanjay Singh, and communication coordinator Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi are addressing these meetings.
Besides, the AAP is using the social media in a big way to mobilise supporters. WhatsApp is bustling with posters of Arvind Kejriwal exhorting Punjabis to “take stock” of the Rs 12,000 crore scam and reach Chandigarh on May 16 in large numbers. The AAP’s Facebook page is updating photographs of the daily meetings. The party’s national leaders are tweeting about the protest march.
AAP leaders claim that the volunteer meetings are getting an overwhelming response. “Not a Jansabha, it’s a volunteer’s meet of Jalandhar zone. Will shake the roots of the Badals on 16th,” Gajendra, a party supporter, tweeted with a picture of hundreds of AAP volunteers gathered in Jalandhar. Another picture of the volunteer meeting in Patiala on Monday uploaded by the party shows a huge gathering of people being addressed by Chhotepur. “It is 45 degrees and despite the heat the number of people gathered in the meeting shows they are unhappy with other political parties in the state. Punjab is ready to take stock of Rs 12,000 crore on May 16,” states the post with it.