The rural Punjabi is cynical, and he's torn between AAP and Cong
Cynicism, skepticism and confusion rule the minds of the rural populace of Punjab at this point of time, as the state moves towards the Assembly polls in the next three months.
A visit to Sanaur village, which is also an Assembly constituency, revealed how the voter is torn between his or her aspirations, cynicism, and yet, yearning for a change.
Sanaur is one those seats where two of the main political forces - the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - have already declared their candidates. While the SAD has fielded Harinder Pal Singh Chandumajra, AAP has given the ticket to Kuldeep Kaur Tohra. The Congress is almost certain to repeat sitting MLA Lal Singh.
The most interesting aspect of the candidates for this constituency is that all three carry substantial weight.
Harinder is the son of Anandpur Sahib MP Prem Singh Chandumajra, who has also been a former minister in the state, besides having represented Patiala in Parliament, having defeated Captain Amarinder Singh in 1998.
Similarly, Kuldeep Kaur is the adopted daughter of towering Akali leader of yesteryear Gurcharan Singh Tohra. She had recently joined AAP amidst allegations that Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal had engineered her defeat as the SAD candidate in the last Assembly polls. AAP wants to capitalise on Tohra's legacy by bringing her into the party fold and fielding her.
Lal Singh is an old Congress hand who has won this seat six times in the last three decades. At present, he is a close confidant of state party president Amarinder, and is sure to get the ticket to contest this seat again.
It is in this scenario that the voter stands perplexed and cynical.
"We want to vote for AAP, not because of any other reason, but to raise a third force in Punjab. We want to put a barricade for the Congress and the Akalis, for whom we have been voting for decades, but have got nothing in return," says Baljeet Singh, an aged farmer in Sanaur village.
At the same time, he says: "But I laugh at the fact that AAP too has brought in a candidate who originally was an Akali. What different does it make? She is Tohra's daughter, and her husband Harmail has already been an Akali minister."
The rural population is well aware of the day-to-day political developments in the state. It unanimously believes that the AAP had arrived on the scene offering great hope, and the polls would've been a cakewalk for the party had they been held a few months ago. But recent developments within AAP have also led to doubts among the voters.
It is for sure, though, that AAP will be a crucial factor in the polls. It is here to stay, villagers say, while pointing to the AAP posters and banners that have come up. These banners do not show anyone but only AAP's national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, which signifies that the party, for now, is banking highly on Kejriwal's personality and identity.
These banners bear the slogan "Kejriwal, Kejriwal... Sara Punjab tere naal (all of Punjab is with you Kejriwal)". There are also banners depicting AAP's farmers manifesto.
A large section of voters believes that Lal Singh is the front-runner to retain this seat, since he belongs to the backward community that dominates the seat - the Kambojs.
"Since Chandumajra and Kuldeep Kaur are sprouts of the same Akali tree, their votes are sure to get divided, and this will benefit the Congress candidate. Nobody can rule out that AAP will be getting a substantial number of votes this time. The broom (AAP's symbol) has caught the fancy of a large number of people, particularly the youth and those annoyed with the two traditional parties," a farmer says.
At the state level, though, it would be foolhardy to rule out SAD-BJP retaining power. Devinder Singh, a well-to-do farmer, says: "The BJP is an ally of the Akalis and has been contesting on 23 seats over the last two decades. If it performs exceptionally well, the alliance coming back cannot be ruled out."
So, who will form the next government in Punjab. People say that would depend a lot on the final list of candidates, especially on the Congress front.
The AAP has faced its share of revolts after releasing four lists of candidates, and the Congress is also likely to witness the same, given that it's a top-heavy organisation with multiple groups who have a history of infighting.
The Akalis, too, have seen revolts after they announced their first list of 69 candidates, with a majority of their rebels joining the Congress.
Pointing to recent developments, voters say: "Had AAP been in a comfortable position, it would not have gone in for an alliance with the Insaaf Party promoted by Ludhiana's Bains brothers (Simarjit Singh and Balwinder Singh)."
The villagers' concerns
A major concern for the farmers in Sanaur, the vegetable bowl of Malwa, remains the annual flooding of the Ghaggar river and the depleting water levels.
They want the new government to address these concerns on priority.
They are extremely critical of the Parkash Singh Badal-led state government for ignoring the region over the last decade, probably because it has been a Congress stronghold.
But they also criticise the Congress for not providing enough employment to the youth.
It is here that some of them see hope in the AAP.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch