To counter the success and popularity of the Congress party’s recent initiative—`Coffee with Captain’— a brainchild of their poll strategist and campaign advisor Prashant Kishor, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has launched the innovative programmer `Bolda Punjab’ which was inaugurated in Mohali on 23 April. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) does not have any specific election-related programme as yet.
`Coffee with Captain’ is an interactive programme involving dialogue of people with Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president and likely chief ministerial candidate Captain Amarinder Singh if the Congress comes to power in the next elections. On the other hand, `Bolda Punjab’ is AAP’s initiative by organizing a dialogue programme with different sections of people, one at a time in different cities to help it prepare the party manifesto.
Senior journalist Kanwar Sandhu heads the Punjab manifesto committee of AAP. Another senior journalist, Chander Suta Dogra is a member of the committee along with half a dozen members including Raghu Mahajan, Dr Sarika Verma, Gagandeep Singh Chadha, Gurinder Singh Birring, Mohammad Ovais, Ashish Khetan, Succha Singh Chhotepur, MPs Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh.
Talking to Firstpost, senior AAP leader Sucha Singh Chotepur, said they got an overwhelming response to the inaugural programme of `Bolda Punjab’. The first programme in this series was based on interaction with the youth. ``We are very encouraged by our inaugural programme of `Bolda Punjab’. The response of the youngsters was better than we expected. The crowd was very enthusiastic. They were concerned about rising unemployment and the growing menace of drugs in the state. The youth want jobs, better sports facilities, better employment opportunities. They want parties to address their problems. Sucha Singh said that the party has taken note of this.
The Dialogue Committee plans to hold structural public meetings to get to know in detail the hardships people have faced in the past under different Punjab governments. According to Kanwar Sandhu, the main issues to be discussed are the drug menace, suicides by farmers, rising unemployment, issues of the youth, corruption in public offices, health problems, problems at work, mafia menace, mafia control of sand, liquor, drugs, transport and cable network business in Punjab and issues relating to the NRIs.
However, AAP leaders deny that the `Punjab Bolda’ initiative is being launched to counter the Congress programme of `Coffee with Captain’.
According to AAP, this exercise is being done with a specific purpose of taking people’s views to help formation of the party manifesto. These views, problems and aspirations of the people will be the basis of the party manifesto, according to sources in AAP. The AAP feels that it will be on solid ground if it knows the problem areas and addresses them properly. This feedback will go a long way in making the party come close to the people. AAP had successfully held a similar `Delhi Dialogue’ programme before elections there.
This had helped AAP to win the Delhi elections hands down and defeat even the BJP. The AAP manifesto for the Punjab election is likely to be ready by June. It will then be released by party supremo and National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal most probably in September. AAP intends to hold dialogue with various sections of people. Meanwhile, more people from different walks of life have joined AAP in Punjab. They include former international hockey players Hardeep Grewal and Jagdeep Gill, state Women’s Panel former chief Parminder Kaur, former member of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandakh Committee (SGPC) Jarnail Aulakh and Congress leader Paramjit Singh Pamma. Pamma is the Nangal Municipal Councilor and former Block Congress president.
Interestingly the issues being raised by both the AAP and the Congress are the same—the growing menace of drugs, rising unemployment and fighting corruption. For AAP, it is the first time the party will be contesting the assembly poll in Punjab. In 2014, AAP had contested the Lok Sabha elections and managed to win four seats in its first attempt. For the Congress Punjab assembly election, 2017 is a prestige issue. The Congress, which has been out of power for the last ten years, is desperate to snatch power from the Akalis, but the AAP stands in the way.
Both the Congress and AAP are making good use of social media to popularize their election campaign. Recently, the Akalis also reportedly roped in a private social media to propagate their election campaign. The Congress party decided to hire a professional agency-the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) run by Prashant Kishor for its election campaign. Kishor had successfully handled political campaigns of Prime Miniser Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) in Bihar. For Captain Amarinder Singh, it is a do-or-die situation. He has made it clear that this is his last election. He is hoping to win the poll and emerge as the chief ministerial candidate.
Short of funds, AAP has been depending on its `fund raising dinner’ programmes with the party’s top brass. While the Congress is not short of funds, the ruling Akalis are finding it difficult to announce sops for the people in the last year of the poll. Punjab’s economy is in doldrums and it just doesn’t have the funds for any new populist project.
Recently, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came to Zirakpur in the outskirts of Chandigarh to hold meeting with the party workers, he targeted the ruling Akali-BJP alliance. Downplaying AAP’s challenge, Rahul Gandhi set the tone for the Congress party’s 2017 election campaign by saying that the Akalis, and not the AAP is the key challenge in Punjab. He also ruled out any pre-poll alliance for the assembly polls, and despite expectations from the supporters of Captain Amarinder Singh, did not declare him as the party’s choice for the chief minister’s post.
Even as all the parties in Punjab are taking a pledge to fight drugs, no one talks about liquor which flows freely in Punjab. When a youngster asked if the Congress will ban liquor if the party comes to power, Captain Amarinder’s answer was shocking, but was a cruel truth as well. ``Punjab’s economy is critically dependent on the excise policy. Punjab’s economy will collapse if tomorrow we put a ban on the sale of liquor,’’ he said.
The political parties are also not leaving any chance to attack each other and blaming them for the social evils present. ``Akalis have been totally opposed. People are not going to be fooled by their propaganda any more. They have trust on only one party, the Aam Aadmi Party. People’s expectations are very high from us,’’ said Sucha Singh Chotepur, while speaking to Firstpost.