It was Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chaiwalla” barb for Narendra Modi that prompted the “Chai Pe Charcha” campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Months later during the Bihar elections, Modi’s remark — something wrong in Nitish’s DNA — was used by Nitish Kumar to the hilt to remind all Biharis of the “insult” to romp home. The man who turned these barbs on their head, Prashant Kishor, seems to be having the last laugh once again as the poll strategist for the Congress.
What Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said during his Punjab visit on Saturday was lost in what he did not say — he did not name Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for Punjab polls. And Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal was quick to tweet a taunt on Sunday. “So, Captain no more Congress CM face in Punjab?” he said.
So, Captain no more Congress CM face in Punjab? https://t.co/2WFRcyJAUu— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) April 16, 2016
Later, he peppered it with a tweet in Hindi: “Yeh to Congress ne Captain ko bahut dhokha diya hai. Pehle Congress ka CM chehra ghoshit kar diya aur aab hata diya (Congress has let down Captain. First the party declared him as the CM face and now backed out).”
ये तो कोंग्रेस ने कैप्टन को बहुत बड़ा धोखा दिया है। पहले कोंग्रेस का CM चेहरा घोषित कर दिया और अब हटा दिया। https://t.co/2WFRcyJAUu— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) April 16, 2016
Clash of personalities
The strategy, Congress insiders claim, was to draw the AAP into the trap of naming its CM candidate for Punjab. “The Punjab election will be a clash of personalities and there is no doubt that Amarinder will be the CM candidate of the Congress as the entire campaign from ‘Coffee with Captain’ and ‘Punjab da Captain’ are centred around him. It’s the AAP which does not have a CM face. While Amarinder will be named the CM candidate by Rahul sooner than later, Kejriwal will have to answer whether it is him or a son of the soil, as his team is claiming, who will be its face in Punjab,” they said.
Faced with the AAP’s aggressive publicity machine, the Congress too is focusing its energies on how to checkmate. Taking a cue from the recent HuffPost-CVoter poll survey which has predicted 94 to 100 seats for the AAP out of 117 and Kejriwal as the most favoured face as the CM candidate for Punjab followed by Amarinder, the Congress counter-strategy is to force the AAP to reveal its Punjab face. Among Kejriwal, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal and Amarinder for the CM’s choice, 51% backed Kejriwal, 35% Amarinder and 7% Sukhbir in the poll survey.
Ambitious contenders in AAP
“Unlike the Congress, there are many ambitious contenders in the AAP for the top post and knives will be out as soon as Kejriwal names one among the many. And if Kejriwal throws his own hat in the ring, the Congress will ask Punjabis if they would elect a non-turbaned Haryanavi as the Punjab CM. After all, the history of Punjab is that it was divided on the basis of Punjabi and Hindi-speaking “subas” (areas) into Punjab and Haryana and most of its disputes from capital Chandigarh to river waters are with Haryana,” Congress sources added.
Nominee will be declared in due course: Capt
Amarinder himself is not perturbed over the delay in announcement of his name. “Have you ever heard the Congress announce the CM candidate 10 months in advance? My name was announced as the CM candidate in 2012 state polls a few weeks before the elections. It will be done in due course at an appropriate time. I have been asking Kejriwal who is your face in Punjab. But he is not even double but triple-faced man. In Punjab, he says Punjab has right to its waters, in Delhi he says Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal should be constructed and in the Supreme Court he says something else,” Amarinder told HT.
Party sources say Rahul’s Saturday visit was aimed at showing he is investing in Punjab by meeting party rank and file 10 months before elections. “In his over three-hour interaction with partymen, Rahul made three major announcements — tickets will be distributed six months in advance, over 40% tickets will go to the youth and tickets will be decided in Punjab and not by the All India Congress Committee in Delhi. It is happening in the Congress for the first time and he wants Congressmen to feel the winds of change,” a senior party functionary said.
Main rivals? Both AAP and Cong won’t admit
The strategy of both the AAP and Congress is to deny acknowledging each other as their main rival. Kejriwal was Amarinder’s main target at his rallies at Maghi mela in January and again at the Baisakhi rally at Talwandi Sabo last week. The AAP had lost no time to dish out details on purported foreign bank accounts of Amarinder’s wife and son. Now the AAP’s smear campaign is also targeting Kishor. So far alleging a secret pact between the Badals and Amarinder, it has now found Kishor as the link. Party’s national organisational secretary Durgesh Pathak on Sunday tweeted: “Is it true that Kishor fixes many appointments for Badals and Majithia?” In yet another tweet, Pathak said: “Kishor is an active bridge between Captain and Badals. Punjab wants to know the deal between Badals and Captain.”