Punjab: Akalis and Congress corner AAP for shaky stance on SYL
Sharing of river waters and construction of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal is clearly one issue where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is on the back foot in Punjab vis-a-vis its rivals - the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
To make matters worse, the issue, which has been unresolved for five decades, is taking centrestage in Punjab politics while the state is barely three months away from the forthcoming assembly polls.
A 'meek' response
The comparatively 'meek' manner in which AAP responded to the situation agreements is also likely to have political implications for the party.
The matter is becoming an emotive issue in the state since the recent Supreme Court verdict on a presidential reference in the matter went in favour of Haryana. The verdict stated that Punjab has no right to unilaterally terminate water sharing.
To add to the woes of the party leadership in Punjab, AAP's national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal cancelled his visit to the state scheduled for 15 November when he had to release the party's Dalit manifesto.
The reason for the cancellation is being cited as the fallout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to demonetise notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination. Not getting enough ground support, the party has reportedly even called off its indefinite dharna at Kapoori village in Patiala.
Kejriwal's silence on the issue has also provided ammunition to AAP's rivals to launch attack on the party.
A ready Congress pounces
As usual, the Congress is at the forefront of attacking AAP, which it has been since AAP has emerged its chief rival in Punjab over the last two years. Observers say that AAP had primarily eaten into the Congress support base ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to win four seats in the state. The Congress has been striving to regain this support base.
Right from the day the Supreme Court released its verdict, Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has been questioning Kejriwal's silence, exalting him to make his stand clear on the matter.
Terming AAP's reported claims that Kejriwal need not speak on the SYL issue since the party's stand on the matter is clear as 'nonsensical' Amarinder has asked AAP leaders to explain why, in that case, is he making statements every day on the demonetisation issue.
"Is the AAP stand on demonetisation not clear yet? Is that why it has become necessary for Kejriwal to make a statement on the subject virtually every day," he said.
Amarinder has been saying that Kejriwal has, in fact, left his own party people in the lurch by choosing to maintain a persistent silence on SYL. With no explanation to give to the people of Punjab, AAP is now fumbling for excuses to validate their national convener's adamant refusal to come out with a categorical statement on the issue.
Attacking Kejriwal for his cancellation of Punjab trip to release AAP's Dalit manifesto, Amarinder said he has no face left to come to Punjab and claimed that the AAP leader has decided to run away from the Punjab electoral battle without a fight.
Amarinder has been asking Kejriwal pointedly, "Whether or not you are with Punjab on this matter or are your loyalties with the people of Delhi and Haryana?"
SAD joins in
The Akalis have been trying to make SYL a key electoral issue for the Punjab polls given its emotive value. SAD president Sukhbir Badal has been launching vicious attacks on Kejriwal and AAP.
The Congress and the Akalis have also been bolstered by reports of the reportedly poor public response to AAP's indefinite dharna at Kapoori village of Patiala where the former prime minister Indira Gandhi had inaugurated the SYL project. The dharna has reportedly been called off by AAP.
Sukhbir has said the farmers of Punjab have given a befitting answer to AAP for betraying them on the issue of river waters.
He has claimed that the game is over for AAP. This is the second successive programme of AAP that has failed to get the expected public response. Earlier, the protests in the state's mandis organised by AAP had reportedly got a lukewarm response from the farmers at several places.
"Now the motley crowd of AAP outsiders can pack up their bags and go back to their home towns in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Punjabi farmers have seen through your game. They will never trust you again. You (Kejriwal) told farmers during a meeting in Punjab that they did not have any water to spare. However on returning to Delhi you supported Haryana's stand and demanded the SYL canal be constructed," Sukhbir said.
No firm stance
Although the AAP leadership has been making noises on the SYL issue, it is clear that the Akalis and the Congress are far more well entrenched on this issue. The latter two parties have been trying to portray Kejriwal as an outsider who would favour Delhi and Haryana on this issue.
AAP has been on the defensive right from the day when Delhi government reportedly filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that was not in favour of Punjab.
While taking a stand that how can Punjab share its waters when it barely has enough for itself, its leaders in Punjab recently said that they have no objection to providing drinking water to the neighbouring states. The party is yet to come out with a firm and clear stand on the issue. Journalists who interviewed Kejriwal across Punjab during his last visit disclosed that he is reluctant to talk on the issue of SYL.
AAP speaks up
AAP's Punjab leadership has been trying to launch counter attacks on Amarinder and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The leaders have been saying that Badal should have pressurised the NDA government at the Centre, where he is a part of the alliance, to call back the presidential reference on the matter.
"Why Badal shies away by raking up the issue of SYL Canal in a strong manner with the prime minister and make him understand the ground situation of availability of water in Punjab," AAP leaders said. They have pointed at media reports saying that against a panel of 40 lawyers of Haryana, a single lawyer from Punjab fought the case which shows Punjab government's sincerity in the matter.
Referring to Congress' national spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala hailing the Supreme Court's opinion which went against the interests of Punjab, AAP's Punjab in-charge Sanjay Singh has asked Amarinder to clarify the stand of his party's national leadership on the issue. He has asked Amarinder to specify whether the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is with Punjab or Haryana on the SYL issue.
With AAP having no representation in the out going state assembly where drama is expected in the light of the Congress MLAs having submitted their resignations and Badal having convened a special session, the party would be relegated to the sidelines to watch the developments as a rank outsider.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu