No Grand Old approach. Congress goes hyper local in Punjab
- The Congress has been known to take a \'five-star\' approach to campaigns in the past
- This consists of organising big rallies just a few days before the polls
- Taking a leaf out of AAP\'s book, the Punjab Congress has decided to go hyper-local
- State party chief Amarinder Singh will lead a chain of dharnas and outreach programmes against the Badal govt
- The brains behind this change of strategy
- The details of the proposed 200-day campaign
In a departure from its earlier practice, the Congress party in Punjab has decided to go aggressive and start establishing direct contact with the masses well ahead of the Assembly polls, a strategy normally associated with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The grand old party plans to organise aggressive hyper-local campaigns against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government in the state.
The party leadership has identified the key issues on which it will be taking on the state government in the coming few days, in the form of region-specific protests. Meanwhile, its workers have already started making one-to-one contacts with the voters in Punjab's hinterland.
The plan in place
The chain of dharnas planned by the party will start from Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur district on 8 June, on the issue of delay in payments to the sugarcane farmers of the region. According to the state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh, "The government is to pay the sugarcane farmers over Rs 200 crore, which it has not done till now."
This protest will be followed by another one on 13 June at Jalandhar, on the deteriorating law and order situation in the state.
Amarinder has decided to lead the protest at Badal village himself, to protest against an alleged multi-crore recruitment scam involving a close aides of the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on 18 June.
Referring to the multi-crore recruitment scam involving Dayal Singh Kolianwali, a close aide of Badal, Amarinder said he is proving to be another Ravi Sidhu, the disgraced former chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, who was jailed and sentenced for corruption in the recruitment.
Kolianwali, the chairman of Punjab Agro Industries Corporation, has hit back at Amarinder with a threat to file a criminal defamation suit against him. The war of words is expected to escalate further.
Amarinder has been targeting the Badal government almost daily on the deteriorating law and order situation. In a recent media interaction, he said that Punjab has turned into a gang-land, and pointed out that despite a couple of months having passed, there is no clue about the killers of Chand Kaur, 88-year-old wife of the late Satguru Jagjit Singh, the former head of the Namdhari sect. She was gunned down at Bhaini Sahib, the headquarters of Namdhari sect, near Ludhiana.
Similarly, he added, even after two weeks, the police have failed to act in the attack on Sikh preacher Sant Ranjit Singh Dhadarianwale.
He ran down Badal for his comments that Punjab is the most peaceful and harmonious state and "petty incidents can happen anytime in any part of the world". Amarinder said that Badal is suffering from severe symptoms of selective dementia, as he had forgotten the present and is only brooding over the past.
The proposed agitations by the Congress have been dismissed as a political gimmick by Badal, who said his government is already probing the issues raised by the Congress leadership.
But what is more interesting is the Congress deciding to go to the grassroots well ahead of the polls. "This is surely a departure from it earlier strategies. The party was known for its five-star culture, where the focus was always on organising big rallies after a few days. Going hyper-local and organising regular protests while the workers spread out to the villages is a new initiative that looks to be the idea of poll strategist Prashant Kishor," said a senior mediaperson.
There are reports of the party planning a 200-day campaign aimed at touching all the 117 constituencies. The party plans to divide the state into six regions, and each would be entrusted to an Amarinder detractor.
There are reports of the party drawing up demographic profiles of the constituencies, to identify and address the electorate on specific issues.
The workers on the ground have started approaching people at the village level. "The strategy is to reach out to every voter. We just go to villages for our own assignments, but side-by-side, we engage the villagers. We begin with small talk on the Badal administration, and once we get a negative comment from the respondent, we take over the task of convincing him. We are basically being told to replicate what AAP cadres had done in Delhi for the Assembly polls there," said a Congress worker from Sangrur.
"Amarinder is trying not to repeat the mistakes committed last time. He is taking his rivals along, giving them responsibilities, and not ignoring their concerns as was the case last time, when candidates lost by small margins," he said.
Party workers are aware that they are facing an uphill task with the new entrant AAP threatening to walk away with the poll trophy, and the Akalis being a formidable force, despite anti-incumbency.
They also say that this time around, the party will announce its candidates well in advance. "We know that AAP has good workers, but lags behind when it comes to presenting leaders before the public. It doesn't even have a face at the state level. That is why the party is dithering on naming its candidates. This is an area of our strength, and the party will exploit it," said a party worker from Patiala.
Akalis follow Cong footsteps
Meanwhile, the party will shortly be launching the second phase of 'Coffee with Captain' and 'Punjab da Captain' initiatives, with an aim to engage the voters directly.
The Congress's initiative seems to have found a reflection among the Akalis, who have launched the 'Ik Sham Sarkar De Naal' (an evening with the government) under Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The programme will take off from 10 June, with an aim to bring pro-people welfare measures undertaken by the SAD-BJP government to the fore.
Sukhbir has given instructions to party leaders to gear up for the polls in right earnest, and give priority to strengthening the party at the grassroots level, by constituting circle and village-level units quickly. AAP, on the other hand, is continuing with its Punjab dialogue programme.