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Why Punjab Is Ripe For AAP

16/02/2016 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
MUKTSAR, INDIA - JANUARY 14: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing a public rally on the occasion of Maghi Mela (festival) at Muktsar on January 14, 2016 in Bathinda, India. Giving a kick-start to AAP’s campaign for 2017 Punjab polls, its convener Arvind Kejriwal launched a scathing attack on both Akalis and Congress, accusing them of being hand in glove with each other, and asked people to vote for AAP to end corruption, drug abuse, farmer suicides and put the state back on right track. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The political climate in Punjab is heating up as it gears up for elections in 2017. All major parties are in full swing, grabbing every opportunity to front up and make their case to voters. Political alliances are being pondered upon, party-swapping by potential candidates is rampant, and winning strategies are being chiselled up.

When it comes to politics, Punjab has traditionally been a very peculiar state. The majority Sikh population has often exercised its religious loyalties while casting votes. This has historically stood the Akalis (and their alliance partners) in good stead.

Post 1984, whenever the Congress party has risen to power in Punjab it has done so predominantly on the back of an anti-incumbency sentiment against the Akalis (and their partners). The Akali-BJP alliance and the Congress have remained the only two dominant political powers and have taken turns to rule Punjab over the years.

Politically, Punjab is in a combustible state, with a citizenry that is fuming. The ruling Akali-BJP alliance has destroyed almost every ounce of goodwill towards them...

However, things have changed in Punjab, this time around. Politically, Punjab is in a combustible state, with a citizenry that is fuming. The ruling Akali-BJP alliance has destroyed almost every ounce of goodwill towards them in their 10 years of rule in Punjab since 2007.

Unabated corruption, a menacing drug trade devastating the youth, and crippling debts driving once proud farmers to suicides are the plagues of today's Punjab. The state has been reduced to a shadow of its once affluent past -- government coffers have been drained, unemployment is exponentially increasing, farming is a dying trade, and industry is dwindling.

In such dire conditions, the people of Punjab seem to be crying out loud for a political change in the upcoming 2017 elections. On the back of a shamefully dismal track-record in governance since 2007, the Akalis are seemingly headed towards a political annihilation in the 2017 Punjab elections. The BJP as their partner (or on its own) faces the same fate.

In such a scenario, one might expect for Punjab to turn to the Congress, as it has done in the past. Yet, this is may not be the case. It is unlikely that the Congress will enjoy a smooth sail to the finish line in 2017. For now, a third political front is fast emerging in Punjab -- the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Yes, the same AAP that crushed BJP in the last Delhi elections and rendered the Congress extinct over there.

The leader of AAP, Arvind Kejriwal, wasted no time in wooing the disillusioned masses of the state as he took centre stage recently at a massive public gathering in Muktsar. He lashed out at the Akalis, BJP, and Congress alike and pitched the AAP as the "cleaner" political alternative for Punjab. The non-corrupt, accountable, straight-talking alternative -- as he put it.

If anyone in the Congress stands a chance of connecting with the youth and the elderly of Punjab, it's Amarinder Singh.

The Congress, on the other hand, has reverted to their veteran leader, Capt Amarinder Singh, to guide their efforts in the 2017 Punjab elections. He has had a taste of governing Punjab from 2003 to 2007. So he will be well-acquainted with the political pitfalls leading up to next year's elections. As the president of the Punjab Congress, he does bring a certain league of statesmanship to the party's ranks. Something that is wanting within the hierarchies of other political parties in the state. There is a subtle charisma about him, he is extremely knowledgeable and well-spoken - if anyone in the Congress stands a chance of connecting with the youth and the elderly of Punjab, it's Amarinder Singh. However, his biggest challenge will be to somehow dispel the demons haunting 'brand' Congress at the national level as he takes on the surging AAP.

Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, is a maverick. He will not hold back in his attacks against anyone. The AAP run their political campaigns under a party logo of a 'broom' and a slogan of corruption free, clean politics. However, Kejriwal and his AAP remain largely untested, their only political credentials being a rather patchy year and a half of running Delhi. But they tend to offset their political deficit with outlandish verbal bravado, which may resonate in a state like Punjab, where the common person feels cheated by the political class.

AAP tend to offset their political deficit with outlandish verbal bravado, which may resonate in a state like Punjab, where the common person feels cheated by the political class.

The Akalis, and their alliance partner BJP, have not got much going for them at the moment. They have their loyalists but the state as a whole can't wait to see their exit. They will have to do a lot of soul-searching to come up with the right messages for the people of Punjab in their campaigns leading up to the 2017 elections. So far, it seems unlikely that this will be enough to obscure two terms of subpar governance.

In the end, it seems likely that Punjab will vote for change in 2017. The Congress will rely on its past record in Punjab to triumph. The AAP will rely upon its promise of good governance. And the Akalis (and BJP), it looks like, will rely on a miracle.

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