It is well known by now that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is on a roll in Punjab. This comes ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls in the state in 2017. The party has a strong undercurrent in its favour as the electorate stands disenchanted with two traditional political power houses of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress.
As they say, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. There is still a long way to go before the elections are over and the poll results are out. This is why the Congress and SAD cannot be written off so easily.
The states first poll survey, by Huffington Post and CVoter, has now been released to the public. It gives between 94 to 100 seats to AAP out of a total of 117. This comes around 10 months before the elections and has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Many political changes have taken places in the state since this poll was conducted back in February. Many more will take place in the days to come given the fact that both SAD and the Congress have seasoned players like Prakash Singh Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh. These politicians are capable of turning the tables to their advantage.
To begin with, the Huff Post-CVoter survey was carried out before the tumultuous budget session of the Punjab assembly, where AAP has zero presence. Hence it was the other two parties, mainly the SAD, that set the poll agenda on a couple of emotive issues. These are issues that have always touched the chord with Punjab's electorate.
Badal once again proved why he is still the grand old man of Punjab politics when he simply hijacked the agenda of sharing Punjab's river waters with Haryana and the construction of the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. He not only snatched the title of the 'saviour of Punjab waters' that was being donned by Amarinder since 2004, when he had enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act in 2004, but also compelled AAP to witness the development from the sidelines.
He got 'The Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Canal (Rehabilitation and Re-vesting of Proprietary Rights) Bill, 2016' passed in the assembly forcing the Congress to tow his line. Another master stroke played by Badal during the session was passing a bill that paved the way for awarding life imprisonment to those guilty of desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib.
The bill aims to increase the punishment for desecration of other religious texts from two years to 10 years.
Observers feel that this was a move to reign in the masses who were annoyed with the state government's handling of several incidents of the desecration of the holy books across the state last year. Being in power, Badal also has the advantage of doling out sops to various sections of the electorate, till the time the model code of conduct comes into force.
Similarly, the Congress too cannot be written off so easily. It is true that the party is trying to put its house in order amidst the infighting. The party has many political heavyweights who are well experienced in fighting difficult political situations. Even the Huff Post-CVoter poll has pointed that Amarinder is seen as the best candidate for the post of the chief minister of the state way above the rest.
Observers point out that the Congress party is known to work on the strategy of taking its poll campaign to the pinnacle, just a month or so before the campaign, so that it could maintain its tempo. Its leaders have been saying that Punjab needs an experienced and stable government after a decade long 'misrule' of Akalis which AAP cannot provide.
They have also been terming AAP as a 'failed experiment' in Delhi. The advantage that the Congress has, is that like the Akalis, it has been an old force in the state, and has a say on all the emotive issues that have been before the electorate right since the independence. The party has been on an upswing since Amarinder took over the reigns once again in November last year.
In addition to this, the role of two other parties - BJP and BSP - cannot be undermined. BJP has a strong presence, particularly in the urban areas. Its leaders, like former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur, are quite popular. Even though the latter has been airing her reservations on BJP continuing it alliance with SAD amidst the speculations of the couple leaving the party, their role in the polls will matter in the final outcome of the polls. The BJP is keen to fight on more seats in the urban areas of Malwa belt where it claims to have a strong outreach.
The BSP on the other hand is trying to resurrect itself and has decided to go at it alone in the polls. Its a decision that came much after the Huff Post - CVoter poll was carried out. It needs to be kept in mind that the BSP had won nine seats in the 1992 Assembly polls and had garnered 16.32% of the votes polled.
Punjab's Dalits account for 32% of its total population and every party is trying to reach out to them. How many of them rally behind the BSP remains to be seen. Though presently seen as a clear front runner, AAP too is plagued by several short comings. The biggest question being asked is whether it will be able to maintain its momentum till the time of the polls. The second important issue is that who will be its chief ministerial candidate.
The party surprised everyone by winning four of the 13 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but two of its MPs stand suspended for their anti party activities. Most of its prominent leaders are being projected as the next chief ministerial candidate on various platforms including the social media. The Huff Post-C Voter poll has also pointed to the plummeting popularity of its Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann. Factors like its chief ministerial candidate being from within the party, within Punjab and whether he will be a Sikh are expected to have a bearing on the poll outcome.
The two traditional parties of the Congress and the SAD have debunked the Huff Post -CVoter survey pointing that it is too premature. "It like everybody wanting fast food and immediate results. Who would have imagined some months ago that the Akalis would not be able to venture into the villages.
There is a lot of time for the elections. The things in AAP are muddied up. They have just been making a lot of promises and showcasing their Delhi achievements. The people of Punjab will not get carried away by all this. The survey itself shows Amarinder to be the best choice for the post of the chief minister.
This itself is a major indicator of things to come," said senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar.
A member of Amarinder's media team posted this on social media: "AAPRIL FOOL!!!! AAPRIL Fool award goes to AAP!!! with 100 seats !!!!! Huffington Post 'survey' giving Aam Aadmi Party 100 seats could not have been REVEALED on a better day. Anyway, Congratulations!!!!"
The Akalis have pointed that this is yet another survey carried out for 'self satisfaction'. "All the surveys, the pre poll and the exit polls were giving just 18 seats to us in 2012 assembly polls. The result was that SAD achieved simple majority on its own for the first time. In any case such polls are to be carried out closer to the elections not a year before. Amarinder was shown the most popular choice for the chief minister last time and even before that. But the result was something else. Popularity of a leader is gauged only when people go to the polls," party leader Manjeet Singh GK told Catch.
Shiv Inder Singh, a political analyst and a documentary maker working with alternative media points out that both the Akalis and the Congress will be bringing out emotive issues ahead of the polls and this will definitely have a bearing on the outcome. "I have just toured the rural areas. It is true that the people are looking towards AAP but the other two remain strong contenders too. Look at the way Badal has managed to play up the SYL and Guru Granth Sahib issue. Similarly, Amarinder has made inroads again in the Malwa belt where AAP was going very strong some months back.
This area sends more than half of the assembly's total strength. In the border areas the people are very angry at both the SAD and the Congress for not addressing the issue of youth that has fallen prey to drug addiction and unemployment.
There are agrarian issues also. But AAP being without a face for too long will not help its prospects. They have to come up with a face with which the people can identify the party." He also pointed that factors like the role played by the Sidhu couple will also have a bearing, particularly in the Majha area. In Doaba, it remains to be seen how Dalit politics is played.
The battle for Punjab is yet to take off. The ground is being prepared. It remains to be seen who makes the winning moves.
Edited by Sahil Bhalla
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