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AAP floods Punjab with ads ahead of Kejriwal's visit

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 15 July 2016, 21:35 IST

After being targeted by both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress over the past 15 days over hurting Sikh religious sentiments, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab is attempting an image makeover. This move comes ahead of the proposed visit of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP's national convenor Arvind Kejriwal to Amritsar on 18 July.

The party is trying to convey that Kejriwal's scheduled visit to the Golden Temple will be a sober affair where he will just perform sewa. The party has also released a massive advertisement campaign highlighting its works in Delhi to convey to the people that it is a development-oriented party.

A series of gaffes

The SAD and the Congress recently cornered AAP into a tight spot over two issues. First, the cover its youth manifesto - released for the 2017 Punjab assembly polls - had the party symbol on it with the Golden Temple in the backdrop.

Also read - AAP takes high moral ground on Sikh sentiment row; opens second front against Congress

Second, senior leader Ashish Khetan stands accused of hurting religious sentiments of Sikhs as he reportedly compared the AAP's youth manifesto, to the Guru Granth Sahib. The party is also being targeted for Kejriwal's picture as a Nihang on the cover of a national fortnightly.

While AAP leaders were quick to apologise for the youth manifesto gaffe, they attempted to take a high moral ground on the issue - senior leader HS Phoolka was seen performing sewa at the Golden Temple and now Kejriwal will follow suit.

The party, meanwhile, has said that it is not at fault for the Nihang picture. AAP MP and chairman of the campaign committee in Punjab Bhagwant Mann said, "Everyone knows that it is a photo-shopped picture. How is that our fault? Still, we will be writing to the magazine."

On Kejriwal's proposed visit, Mann said, "He will be there to perform sewa. This is not part of the campaign. Nor is it a show of strength."

Reading between the lines

Many people are reading between the lines with the party splurging in local dailies with two full-page advertisements ahead of Kejriwal's visit this week. Similar advertisements have been printed across the country, but these hold greater significance in Punjab thanks to the upcoming polls where AAP is among the main contenders.

According to observers, the party is trying to present its pro-people face. The advertisements talk of mohalla clinics - AAP has promised to replicate these in Punjab as Pendu Sehat clinics.

The advertisements try to strike a direct connect with the Punjabis by mentioning how the AAP government has named the Barapullah flyover after Sikh martyr Banda Singh Bahadur in Delhi and how a grand light and sound show on him was organised at Rajiv Chowk to mark his 300th maryrdom anniversary.

The Akalis too had organised a grand show to mark the occasion at Mehrauli. Both parties are reaching out to Punjabis in Delhi as the community in the national capital maintains strong family as well as business links with the electorate in Punjab.

Double games

The advertisements also proudly proclaim the Delhi government's decision to appoint Punjabi and Urdu teachers in government schools. The approval to do so came after the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) claimed that the AAP government was ignoring Punjabi.

Soon after the decision was announced, DSGMC leaders immediately said that this came about only because they exerted pressure.

The AAP advertisements also try to dispel the allegations against the Delhi government leveled time and again by its opponents of having spent Rs 526 crore on advertisements to promote itself. The advertisement claims that the party spent only Rs 75 crore.

Gentle ribbing

Meanwhile, the party continues to be targeted by its opponents. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has once again said that the AAP government in Delhi is a total failure as Kejriwal has failed to fulfill even a single promise made to people before polls.

His focus in his attacks has remained on Kejriwal's stand on sharing of Punjab waters with its neighbours and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal (SYL) saying that the affidavit filed by Kejriwal led Delhi government in Supreme Court on SYL issue has exposed its anti-Punjab mindset.

The DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK has gone to the extent of telling Kejriwal to take a sabbatical to think over the controversies that have arisen from his Punjab visits.

There are also reports of the AAP leadership in Punjab debating whether it should continue with the Dera visits by its leaders and also indulge in politics with religious undertones.

Another issue they face is about whether to push local Punjab leaders in the limelight because of the team of volunteers from outside the state who are currently running the show.

Mann has denied this: "Once our first list of candidates is declared by the end of this month, the candidates will take over the formulation of their poll strategies and assume centre stage in their constituencies."

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 15 July 2016, 21:35 IST