Raikot, Mullanpur Dakha (Ludhiana): Traders, shopkeepers, teachers, farmers, construction workers, and daily wagers - coming on bicycles, motorcycles, tractor-trailers, and self-hired tempo travellers - are thronging the Aam Adami Party (AAP) rallies.
To a party testing the waters in the Malwa, Doaba and Majha regions before it heads into the Punjab assembly elections about 16 months from now, the public response to the “Punjab Jodo” mass mobilisation campaign has been overwhelming. Not that the Congress (out of power in Punjab for about nine years) or ruling-alliance partners Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold thinner rallies; but the difference is stark. At the AAP rallies, people gather without any inducement of transport, food, money, liquor and drugs -allurements that have become synonymous with the Akali, Congress, and BJP rallies over many years.
Jang Singh and Jagtar Singh, both 70 and from Accharwala, came to the Raikot rally with four fellow villagers. “Most of people in our village have been voting for either the Akalis or the Congress. Neither has made any difference to our lives. Unemployment and drugs have ruined our children. We have no option but to support APP with the hope that it would change our life before we die,” said Jang Singh.
Sameer, 26, and 20 other young men from Kalisan village pooled `100 each for fuel to travel by motorcycle to the rally. “My friends and I are jobless without means to support our families. Leaders make quick money. No one really cares about us,” he said. The anger against the incumbent alliance after two terms was understandable, but not why people did not consider the Congress an alternative.
‘What other choice?’
Chamkaur Singh from Siwain village sums it up: “What has the Congress done for us. Its leaders are busy fighting among themselves, and most of them, including Captain Amarinder Singh, appear to have reached some understanding with the Akalis. What choice are we left with?”
At the venues, they rush out of their tents to have a glimpse of their AAP leaders as they lash out at the Akali, BJP and Congress leaders. Harpreet Singh and Gurdas Singh had come from Tajpur and Boparai Khurd villages. Asked if they came to hear comedian-turned-politician MP Bhagwant Mann crack his jokes, Harpreet Singh said: “Who can be funnier than Sukhbir when he claims to introduce water buses in Punjab canals?”
On the rift within the AAP and how it has been disintegrating after the suspension of two MPs, Baldev of Tajpur said: “They are good leaders who, probably, have been won over by the Akalis.”
The AAP does not serve food at the site. Even the cops on duty at Mullanpur Dakha were seen paying for tea from own pocket. At the end of every rally, the party volunteers make sure they clean the litter. Political scientist Ronki Ram said he would have to see it to believe. “If true, it speaks of people’s disillusionment with all other political parties probably and shows they are looking for an alternative. Only time will tell if the AAP can meet their expectations,” he said.
Another political scientist Harish Puri explained the throngs as angry masses fed up with the government that had failed to deliver. “In Punjab it is a kind of anarchy that prevails. The Congress too doesn’t give the people much hope,” added Puri.