The results of the assembly polls in Punjab are a tough guess to make, but the war between the ‘pagg’ (turban) and the ‘topi’ (cap) already has a winner. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has all but abandoned its trademark white topi in its bid to connect with Punjab’s voters and idiom.
Even though the Father of the Nation probably never wore it, the ‘Gandhi topi’, named after Mahatma Gandhi, was adopted by the AAP and customised with its slogans, such as ‘Main aam aadmi hun’ (‘I am a common man’), and its symbol, broom, printed on the sides. In the 2015 Delhi assembly polls, in particular, the sea of these caps in public places was the first sign of AAP’s massive comeback after its 2013 resignation fiasco and the 2014 Lok Sabha poll debacle.
In Punjab, though, even AAP supremo and Delhi chief minister tries out new styles and colours of turban at every rally, ‘kesri’ (saffron) identified with Shaheed Bhagat Singh being his favourite.
It appears that the party was stung by the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) rhetoric that equated the topi with outsiders. Deputy CM and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal makes it a point to say at every public meeting: “Punjabis won’t allow topiwalas to rule in Punjab.”
“I think that by raising the ‘topi’ issue, the Akalis are actually targeting Hindus,” says Punjab AAP affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh, also acknowledging that the topi “is being used to project us as outsiders”.
“But that has no meaning now, because the people of Punjab have accepted us. We have met their aspirations by fielding people from the state and Panthic faces as candidates. Most of the AAP candidates are Sikhs,” Sanjay adds.
“Topi was never a part of Punjab’s culture,” comments social scientist Pramod Kumar, “And the turban cuts across religions and castes. Replacing the topi with a turban or vice versa has nothing to do with ideology; it’s a political gimmick.”