The Aam Aadmi Party did not even exist when Punjab last went to assembly polls. Now, less than a year before the next election, it's sniffing victory. And the party is trying everything to bolster its chances. The latest: an extensive "social campaign" to reach out to the voters.
The Nawan Punjab campaign, run by AAP's youth wing, was launched on 25 March and will see the party's workers meeting voters over 12 days. It began at Fatehgarh Sahib and will conclude at Hussainiwala, 280 km away.
The two historical places have been carefully chosen; they are both part of Punjab's folklore. Fatehgarh Sahib is the burial site of Guru Gobind Singh's sons Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh, who were entombed alive in 1704 on the orders of the governor of Sirhind, Wazir Khan. Fatehgarh means 'town of victory', so named after the Sikh army led by Banda Bahadur sacked the Mughal fort there in 1710.
Hussainiwala, a border village on the bank of Satluj, is where Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were cremated on 23 March 1931. It is also the resting place of Bhagat Singh's comrade Batukeshwar Dutt, who died in 1965, and his mother Vidyawati.
The AAP workers will cover the 280 km on foot. "We will be staying in the villages at night and discussing the issues affecting the masses. It is a known fact that people in the villages are being threatened for speaking out against the wrong policies and wrongdoings of this government. We will be raising their concerns while staying among them," said the AAP youth wing chief Harjot Singh Bains. The marchers plan to cover 120 villages during the campaign.
The issues they plan to raise, Bains said, include farm distress and farmer suicides; poor quality of education and healthcare in villages; the plight of small industries; and deteriorating law and order.
"During the nine-year misrule of the SAD-BJP regime led by Parkash Singh Badal, the majority of Punjab's youth have been pushed into a whirlpool of drugs and unemployment. The Badal government has no direction or a clear roadmap for the younger generation," he said at the launch of the campaign.
Bains pointed out that the Akalis "have done nothing to fulfill their promises on unemployment allowance, distributing laptops and data cards and making Punjab a free Wi-Fi state".
The AAP leader also targeted the Congress' state president Amarinder Singh, alleging that during his chief ministership "Punjab's money was stashed away in the Swiss Bank accounts of his wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh".
As for what his party would do if voted to power, Bains said, "We want to build a new Punjab that is free from drugs, unemployment, corruption, and the land, sand, cable, transport and liquor mafias. We also rid Punjab of both the Badal and Amarinder families who have plundered the wealth of the state."
Launching one campaign after another has been a key part of AAP's polls strategy in Punjab. It's intended to overcome the handicap of being without any presence in the assembly. How big a drawback this is was laid bare over the last fortnight: AAP was a mere spectator as the Congress and the Akalis played a game of one-upmanship over the Satluj Yamuna Link canal on the floor of the assembly.
Another problem facing AAP is that the party hasn't yet found a known face to lead its electoral charge. Partly because of this, most of its campaigns have been localised, even on major issues like farmer suicides.
Nawan Punjab ties in with the party's Parivar Jodo campaign, which sees AAP workers going door to door to "apprise people about the policies and agenda of the party". They put a sticker on the houses of those who agree to join hands with them. The party has also developed a mobile app to collect data on all the families its members are visiting, which will be used to reach out to them again closer to the election.
Other AAP campaigns include the 'Punjab Jodo' drive, which was launched last year and focuses on membership enrolment, and the "Beimaan Bhagao Punjab Bachao" yatra against the Akalis.
The party has also launched Punjab Dialogue to understand what the various sections of the electorate expect from the next government. The dialogue will be held over the next six months and is likely to inform the party's manifesto. The party has identified "10 areas for dialogue" with farmers, youth, women, traders, labourers, NRIs, state employees, among other groups.
The party also plans to "communicate with the people" through films, and is reportedly making preparations to screen Ardas in every village over the next few months.
The film, which features Gurpreet Ghuggi, who recently joined the party, "talks of going back to the path shown by Guru Nanak". Also on the cards is Chalo Punjab, a campaign to get the party's supporters from outside to volunteer with the campaign in Punjab.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone
More in Catch: