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Congress gets its act together in Punjab, starts off with constituency-specific issues

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 25 June 2016, 19:29 IST
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Issues so far
  • Congress takes on AAP and SAD-BJP combine in Punjab for the upcoming Assembly Polls
  • Congress made the error of appointing Kamal Nath as party in-charge in Punjab, but he has been removed
What\'s the game plan?
  • Congress is focusing on constituency-specific issues instead of state-level issues
  • Their initial programmes have gotten quite a good response from
What are the opponents doing?
  • Both BJP-SAD and AAP have attacked the Congress for its new campaigns
  • Congress is also being slammed for allegedly spreading lies about the state

After dealing with the pitfall of appointing Kamal Nath as party in-charge in Punjab with his subsequent removal, the Congress has eventually gotten down to putting its act together in the state.

A new campaign led by party chief in Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh under the name 'Halqe vich Captain' (Captain in Constituency) is proving to be a departure from Congress' traditional style of campaigning.

The new initiative, said to be the brain child of strategist Prashant Kishor, aims to hit at the grassroots of Punjab politics.

Also read: Ensuring Congress' win in Punjab will be Prashant Kishor's toughest assignment

Observers point out that besides minor instances of Congressmen tussling among themselves, Amarinder has taken off well with this campaign.

"He is actually raising hyper-local issues. This was never the case before when party leaders used to only talk about state-level or national-level issues. For example he talked about water supply in his campaign in Mohali. Though a very local issue, it touched a chord with the men on ground. Similarly, he talked about crime in Jagraon which is actually reeling under the menace. This shows that the party is keenly studying constituency-specific problems before reaching out to the people. At times it appears that the campaign has come down to the level of a municipal poll, but it helps strike a direct link with the masses," pointed out a senior political observer from Ludhiana.

He further said that by having his meals at a local dhaba and mingling with the crowds, Amarinder is trying to dispel preconceived notions and allegations made by his opponents that he is a royal and inaccessible.

The new campaign follows an earlier drive targeting the youth under the programme called 'Coffee with Captain'.

Bringing the battle home

This fresh phase of campaign was launched almost a week ago by Amarinder right from the Badal bastions of Lambi and Jalalabad. Lambi and Jalalabad are the constituencies of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Chief Sukhbir Badal respectively.

Observers point out that Amarinder got a massive response from the public which had turned up to demonstrate its anger at the non-deliverance of promises made by the ruling SAD-BJP combine in the state.

Also read: Can Punjab Congress crawl back to victory after Amarinder's full overhaul?

Amarinder's programme at Jalalabad coincided with a public programme at nearby Bathinda that was organised by the ruling party to mark two years of completion of the NDA government in the Centre.

It was attended by Sukhbir, his wife and Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley.

"The difference between the two programmes was clearly visible. On one side you had people braving the sun and raising their local issues with Amarinder and on the other you had a much better managed venue but a non-participative audience. In case of Amarinder's event, the people were vocal in airing their resentments against Sukhbir. The audience pointed out that he had not even come to his constituency in the last four and a half years. They took up issues of drug addiction, farm crisis, unemployment, harassment by state agencies etc. In case of the the ruling combine's event, the crowds just sat and listened as leaders spoke about their achievements," said a political observer based in Bathinda.

Amarinder's event at Jalalabad which saw better participation than the BJP-SAD event in Bathinda

Amarinder took off from the speculations doing the rounds that Sukhbir is planning to change his constituency from Jalalabad to Maur Mandi.

"But no matter how much he tries to run away, we will chase and defeat him wherever he goes," he said. He played up Sukhbir not visiting his constituency. "So much so in one of the villages in his constituency 37 farmers committed suicide and he did not care to visit," Amarinder said.

The reason Amarinder picked Jalalabad to start his campaign was to highlight the plight of the people in Sukhbir's constituency.

The show at Jalalabad was followed by a massive protest organised by the Congress at Lambi where around 25,000 people turned up braving the sun, to air their resentments against the ruling party.

Inspite the risk of potentially losing his job, Amarinder chose to rub in a recent episode where an Akal Takht sewadar denied a Siropa (honorary scarf) to Badal.

"I have always been warning Badal that there is divine justice which prevails at the end and it has started from Darbar Sahib," he said.

Amarinder raised the issue of a recruitment scam in which Dayal Singh Kolianwali, a close aide of Badal is an accused and charged that the police is harassing the victims duped of lakhs of rupees in the hopes of getting jobs.

He alleged that the Badals had fixed the rates for jobs at Rs 15 lakhs for the post of a constable and Rs 50 lakhs for the job of an engineer.

Besides taking up issues of employment, Amarinder also promised to bring farmers out of the agrarian crisis.

In-house crisis

While the Jalalabad event was quite a hit, the Lambi event proved to be a small embarrassment for the Congress leadership when local-level leaders clashed in public. Some of these local leader have already been suspended by Amarinder.

But such events continue to be seen as a part of the Congress culture. People still keep questioning how that despite of not having a committed cadre base, the grand old party continues to draw crowds at it events.

Observers point out that the Congress campaign is gathering steam and is expected to peak at a time when the polls are just six to eight weeks away. Then the party leadership would face the challenge of maintaining the momentum.

The other contender for the electoral laurels apart from the Akalis this time will be the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is continuing with it hyper-local campaign and the Punjab dialogue.

The Akalis are clearly on the defensive battling heavy anti incumbency. However, they are also launching counter attacks.

Counter attacks

Countering the Congress campaign, Sukhbir in his address at the programme organised by the ruling SAD-BJP combine claimed that the state is witnessing a golden period as the Akali-BJP coalition is in power in both Punjab as well as at the Centre.

Accusing the opponents of spreading lies on the drug menace and farm debt in Punjab, Sukhbir elaborated that the SAD-BJP government has notable achievements to its credit in infrastructural sector and the revolutionary measures promulgated in production of power, governance reforms and industrial sectors have lead to the uplifting of the standard of living in the state.

Sukhbir Badal accused the Opposition of spreading lies about drug menace and farm debt in Punjab

Chief Minister Badal continues to blame the successive Congress regimes in the Centre for nonviable policies that have forced farmers to give up agriculture. In his programmes he accused the UPA governments of ruining Punjab socially, economically and politically through its anti-state policies.

During a programme in Kang Saabu village near Jalandhar, Badal in a reference to Amarinder's new campaign said that he was trying to replicate his Sangat Darshan programmes and sweating out in scorching heat in the hope of becoming the next chief minister.

"The darbars of Captain are totally futile as the Captain neither has the intention nor the will power to ensure welfare of people," Parkash said.

AAP has been attacking both the Congress and the Akali campaigns calling both parties anti-people.

In an attack on Amarinder, Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann said the people would not take the Congress seriously even if it started a campaign like 'Ghar vich Captain' and knock on every door of the state.

"Had Captain done anything to save Punjab during his regime, Badals would not have come back to power," Mann said.

Also read: AAP on a roll in Punjab but don't write off Congress and Akalis

Also read: Congress in doldrums in Punjab: will it manage to ride out the bumpy road?

First published: 25 June 2016, 19:29 IST
 
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