Will Kejriwal's upcoming rally spree improve AAP's fortunes in Punjab?
To help improve his party's plummeting fortunes in Punjab, national convener of Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, had decided to address 21 rallies over the next 11 days.
The party was recently put on the back foot over the issue of sharing river waters. A few of its other programmes have also failed to click with the masses. Which is why Kejriwal has taken the challenge of put his party's poll machinery back on the track - and make it stand out as a clear leader as it had four months ago.
A focus on Malwa
His main focus will be on the Malwa region where AAP still has a strong base and its leader Bhagwant Mann remains an effective crowd puller. There are reports that the party may field Mann against deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal from the Jalalabad seat, which has been the latter's stronghold for years.
Malwa is a hotbed for Punjab politics because it sends more than half of the MLAs to the state assembly. Before the advent of AAP, the region had remained a stronghold of Akalis and the Congress.
Malwa has also seen the maximum number of farmer suicides and also tops in the cases of farm distress. This is also the region from where the scandal on use of spurious pesticides on cotton crop had broken out.
These were the prime issues along with the rampant drug menace around which AAP has successfully woven its poll campaign not only for the last Lok Sabha polls, but also for the forthcoming polls.
The dip in popularity
Observers say that there are a series of reasons for AAP's popularity going downhill over the last four months. The primary reason among these is that AAP has departed from its mode of campaign that was giving it good returns.
Till a few months ago, AAP's campaign was built on highly-localised agitations and movements on micro-level issues: spurious pesticides, seeds, farmer suicides etc.
But lately, the party moved towards the mode of campaign of is rivals - the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine and the Congress. It walked into the trap of politicking on traditional emotive issues where its rivals stand well entrenched. AAP's stand on these issues - Panthic or the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal - has not been firm.
The second reason for AAP's depleting popularity was the removal of its state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur. Having joined AAP ahead of the last parliamentary polls, Chhotepur has grown from being a small regional leader to having a pan-Punjab identity.
After being removed, he formed the Apna Punjab Party (APP) which is likely to dent the fortunes of AAP, particularly in the Majha region which is Chhotepur's home turf.
"Most of Kejriwal's rallies are in Dana Mandis that are thronged by farmers. But this time you will see that the AAP volunteers missing. It would be the same people accompanying him everywhere. We will also be greeting him with posters saying that he is not wanted and he I not an honest politician," says Apna Punjab Party spokesperson Colonel (Retired) JS Gill.
Gill further said, "The farmers have realised that Kejriwal has not taken a clear stand on the SYL issue. They have also seen that he is keen to run Punjab campaign through his puppets from outside Punjab."
AAP's declining popularity has also been on account of over confidence of its leaders a few months back. "They used to behave as if they have already formed the government," is a common observation that has been made across the board.
Senior political observers feel that AAP's campaign peaked somewhere around May and June. In contrast, the Congress is moving on its traditional trajectory with its campaign expected to peak by the middle of next month.
It is the series of revolts within the party after distribution of tickets that has set the AAP leadership rethinking on its strategy. Kejriwal's visit is expected to provide the much needed fillip to the cadres particularly in he light of the failure of the party' two recent programmes. AAP's protests at grain markets over procurement of paddy last month and the indefinite dharna on SYL issue at Kapoori village of Patiala proved to be a dampener.
Fixing the situation
However, Kejriwal might release the party's Dalit manifesto at one of the forthcoming rallies in the Dalit-dominated Doaba region. The party has made significant inroads into the Dalit electorate which comprises around 32% of the state's total population.
AAP's state convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich said the purpose of Kejriwal's forthcoming rallies is to make the people aware about anti-people policies of SAD-BJP government and how Congress has always cheated the masses.
He claimed that the AAP volunteers are motivated and are preparing for a great show.
Meanwhile, AAP's main political rivals - the Congress and the Akalis - are all set to launch counter attacks on Kejriwal. The Akalis have already set the ball rolling after a local court on 19 November framed charges against Kejriwal and senior leaders Sanjay Singh and Ashish Khetan, in a criminal defamation case filed against them by Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
Majithia said, "The attempts being made by Kejriwal and his gang of outsiders to defame Punjab and its youth have been exposed. Now the 'PAAP' party has no moral right to represent Punjabis. Its leaders should simply pack up their bags and go back to Delhi and Eastern Uttar Pradesh and let Punjabis decide their own fate."
On the other hand, Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh is continuing with his attacks against Kejriwal on a daily basis. Hitting out at the poor response to AAP dharna at Kapoori, he said it shows the disillusionment of the people with the party's national convenor.
Once again questioning Kejriwal's 'baffling silence' on SYL canal issue, Amarinder said, "The people of Punjab want to know whether or not you are with them in this hour of crisis. You cannot evade responsibility to the people of Punjab if you have dreams of ruling the state."
Edited by Aleesha Matharu
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