POLITICS

Can Captain Amrinder Singh Save Congress' 'Sinking Ship' From Kejriwal In Punjab?

Modi sees no hope for the party in these polls.

28/01/2017 9:29 AM IST | Updated 28/01/2017 3:07 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Kerjiwal in the Captain's Court

On a usual day, it is difficult to walk through the serpentine lanes of Lahori Gate in Patalia. And, even more difficult if not nearly impossible when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is doing a road show. There's a big crowd, accompanied by musicians and dancers. While some watch with deep interest as Kejriwal's entourage winds it way through the lanes, others join in. Security men jostle to keep crowds at distance.

But Patiala is not only Captain Amrinder Singh's constituency but it is also his fortress - literally. Kejriwal - who stunned many by his spectacular win in Delhi Assembly elections in 2014 - is in the Captain's den.

Patiala has been traditionally a Congress seat. Since 1957, only four times have a non-congress candidate won this seat. Captain Amrinder Singh alone has won from the constituency thrice.

Patiala has been traditionally a Congress seat. Since 1957, only four times have a non-congress candidate won this seat. Captain Amrinder Singh alone has won from the constituency thrice.

"We need a change; The Congress and the Shiromoni Akali Dal (SAD) both have had chance," Vijay Sharma, who till a few weeks ago was with the BJP, said. Sharma resigned from the BJP and now works for the Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party (AAP).

Even as were speaking, Dr Balbir Singh, the AAP candidate from Patiala, passes by us atop an open jeep, breaking into Bangra once-in-while. "He is a doctor I think," Sharma said when about Dr Singh's credentials and how well-known he was in the area.

Simran Jit Singh, who owns a medium sized shop, had run to welcome the Kejriwal's entourage, so when we meet him he is out of breath. "Well what is wrong the General JJ Singh – the SAD candidate from Patiala?" we asked. "He is a Captain not a General," was the reply.

'Kejriwal should announce who will be their Chief Minister if they win, that I think is AAP drawback'

Clearly for many in the Lahori Gate area –- a bustling commercial hub in the centre of Patiala –- Captain Amrinder Singh has more recall value for the voters than the former Chief of Army Staff. "Kejriwal should announce who will be their Chief Minister if they win, that I think is AAP drawback," he quipped as I quizzed him more on AAP and what voters think Kejriwal will bring to Punjab.

Punjab is very proud about its heritage, history and culture like most other states and the identity of the person who gets the top job is a ticklish issue. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is a very well know figure but too many he is also an outsider as well. And who gets the top job also remains a key question.

Inside the War Room of the Congress

About 70 Km away from Patiala, in Mohali's swank suburb, the Congress has set up their 'War Room'. War Rooms are synonymous with elections these days. This War Room, like that of other political parties, is typically non-descript and has no identifying features from the outside.

Huffington Post was allowed to film and spend some time at the Congress War Room. One of the things that catches your eye as you enter is a signage which reads: "Every battle is won before it is fought." In a nut shell it gives out the job of modern day war rooms –-- meticulous planning which includes carrying out surveys, gauging mood of the people, tailoring campaigns and mass media messages among many other things. There are rows and rows of unmarked desks, manned young men and women. In batches, they man the work stations almost round the clock.

The brains behind this war room are, however, are veterans. They include Rishi Raj Singh, an IIT Kanpur graduate, Prashant Kishore -- the former UN employee turned political strategist -- who have worked Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

And after Congress party declared Captain Amrinder Singh its Chief Ministerial candidate, Singh insists the party has been doing better with voters.

"Numbers tell me the results will be in our favour overwhelmingly," Rishi Raj Singh said. According to him AAP peaked too early and exhausted itself. In contrast, the Congress carried out a slow but deliberate campaign that began in March 2016 –- almost a year ago. And after Congress party declared Captain Amrinder Singh its Chief Ministerial candidate, Singh insists the party has been doing better with voters. "Our graph is shooting; undecided voters will flock towards us," he added. In the last one year, Congress has meticulously targeted various sections of Punjab and campaigns have been tailored to build and bolster Captain Amrinder Singh's image.

"Congress is a sinking ship"

About 140 Km from the Congress War Room, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a huge gathering in Jalandhar that the Congress was a 'sinking ship'. He said that, "The country has seen the politics of destruction for 70 years and the youth of this country are suffering due to it. If you want to do politics, do politics of development."

Who is ahead?

Less than week from now Punjab will vote. Elections, however, in Punjab are always complex. Behind a seemingly homogenous, hardy, boisterous and fun loving people there are dark issues like farmers suicides, falling agricultural yield and dropping water levels and growing menace of drugs addiction. It all depends on who the voters think address all of these the best.

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