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Punjab polls: Kejriwal's AAP sets the agenda. Not Akalis or Congress

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 19 January 2017, 17:39 IST

Far from playing catch up to Punjab's traditional political powers, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is actually setting the agenda for the Assembly elections campaign.

Over the last few days since the campaign hit its fever pitch, this is the pattern that has emerged: the AAP leadership - in particular its national convenor Arvind Kejriwal - raises an issue, and its rivals are forced to react to it.

The result is that the Akalis and the Congress are unable to raise the issues they had planned to raise in the run up to the 4 February polls to the 117-seat Assembly.

On CM candidates

Take for example the issue of a chief ministerial face.

AAP had, for long, been on the defensive for not being able to project a CM face for Punjab. Suddenly, its senior leader from Delhi, deputy CM Manish Sisodia, asked the Punjab electorate to vote as if it were voting for Kejriwal as CM.

While the AAP leadership was testing waters, Sisodia's words compelled both the Congress and the Akalis to come out with sharp reactions, to the extent that their own programmes for the day got overshadowed.

SAD president Sukhbir Badal held a media briefing in Chandigarh that day, but what made the headlines was not what he said at the briefing, but his attack on Kejriwal.

Then, some days ago, Kejriwal gave a statement that the Congress was undecided about making its state president Captain Amarinder Singh its CM candidate. He went on to say that the post was being offered to cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. He said that AAP had offered Sidhu the deputy CM's post, but perhaps the Congress was offering him "something more".

This was enough to set the tongues wagging once more in the Congress, and its leaders were seen answering questions on the issue at almost every media briefing.

Now, after Sidhu has formally joined the Congress, Kejriwal has come out saying that he is irrelevant in the Punjab elections, since he has lost his credibility in the public eye.

On the Satluj-Yamuna Link canal

Kejriwal, on Tuesday, did something similar on the contentious Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and the issue of sharing of Punjab's river waters.

He said that the SAD, the BJP and the Congress had been taking political advantage of the river waters dispute and the construction of the SYL canal for the last more than three decades. He accused them of not being interested in resolving the issue for vested interests.

"There is a BJP government at the Centre, in Haryana and in Punjab. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi desires, he can resolve the SYL canal issue within five minutes. Even the Congress at one point of time had governments in Punjab, Haryana and at the Centre, but no steps were taken to settle the dispute," he stated.

This once again led the Akalis to launch an attack on him, with Sukhbir saying it was surprising that when Punjab was fighting a tough battle to save its lifeline by saving its precious waters, the AAP leadership is terming it a political issue. He said it did not come as a surprise that the AAP leadership had started talking against the state even while contesting the polls, and that it was obvious what would happen if the party grabbed power.

On the drug menace

Even on the drug menace in the state, the AAP leadership has been attacking Akali leader and Sukhbir's brother-in-law Bikram Majithia, while referring to him as a 'drug lord'. Even a defamation case by Majithia has failed to deter the AAP leadership. Now, Kejriwal has announced that Majithia, who is infamous for his links with international drug dealers, would be put behind the bars before 15 April, when AAP comes to power.

Kejriwal and AAP have alleged that despite his name having figured in the FIR related to drug cases, Majithia was never interrogated by the police. "He was named kingpin of the drug trade in Punjab by accused Jagdish Bhola and Jagjit Singh Chahal, arrested by the police in the synthetic drugs racket," he said. Majithia has constantly denied any involvement in the drug cases.

Kejriwal has also used the issue to take on the Congress leadership by alleging Amarinder had opposed the handing over of cases against Majithia to the CBI, once again compelling the Congress to come out and make its stand clear on numerous occasions.

On Amarinder's Swiss bank accounts

Similarly, the AAP leadership has compelled the Congress to react to its allegations on Amarinder and his family's alleged Swiss bank accounts.

On Akali 'scams'

The AAP leadership, in the recent past, has also tried to put the Akalis in the dock by alleging a scam in installation of tube wells.

AAP has also raised the issue of a series of scams in the power sector, to debunk the claims of the Akali leadership on providing power sops to the industry, and bringing down transmission and distribution losses.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 19 January 2017, 17:39 IST