Give it to Arvind Kejriwal. The chattering may have reduced him to a subject of ridicule, but his name still resonates well among the masses. Forget the negative news headlines and all the controversies his party members land almost on a daily basis, he is still considered the man to look up to by people disillusioned with run-of-the mill politicians. That explains the massive attendance in his rallies in poll-bound Punjab. That also perhaps explains why the ruling party would issue an order keeping thousands of buses off the roads on the day of his scheduled farmers’ rally in Moga.
The writing on the wall is clear for the ruling Akali Dal. Its chances of returning to power are bleak if it does not handle the challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) effectively. The latter is still an unknown quantity in the state’s politics in terms of its potential to challenge established parties, but the surge in popular support for Kejriwal makes it look like a positive threat. The Akali Dal would have found it much easier if the Congress were the main rival in February 2017.
The AAP has been in a minor crisis of late after it showed party’s convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur the door and it failed to reach an arrangement with Navjot Singh Sidhu after long negotiation. While Naresh Yadav, party’s MLA from Delhi has been arrested by the Punjab police for allegedly desecrating the Quran, the party’s popular local MP Bhagwant Mann has been in trouble for video shooting his travel to Parliament and allegedly showing up drunk at rallies. All rivals, small or big, some in alliance and some independent, now consider the AAP the enemy number one in the state.
It’s a curious all vs AAP situation in Punjab. Considering the party is a newbie in the Assembly elections, it is an enviable situation to be in. Kejriwal, aware of his unique situation, is leaving nothing to chance. After the Delhi results, he is aware that he would be the central figure in the elections. The elections would be a referendum of sorts on him, the person, as it was the case with Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections. People would vote for him, others don’t matter. The likes of Sidhu maybe popular in small pockets and high profile on television but they lack the pan-Punjab appeal, which Kejriwal despite being an outsider does not.
In a way, as the popular response suggests, all the political attacks on Kejriwal are going in his favour. He is good at wearing victimhood on his sleeves, he can do it in Punjab easily. Thus when he tweets, “Badals scared. Trying every dirty trick” in connection with grounding of private buses for inspection, it is likely to make the halo of victimhood bigger.
Badals scared. Trying every dirty trick https://t.co/wVYzPD7puo
Given the political situation in the state, the farmers at the rally are more likely to believe him than the Badals.
However, all this does not mean to assert that the AAP is headed for a cakewalk in Punjab. In one of his rallies a few months back, Kejriwal claimed his party would win 110 of the 117 seats in the state. The ground situation, particularly on the organisational front, does not reflect that sense of optimism. Yet the chances of the party emerging as the first among equals look bright. Some seats, even many seats less would still mean that Kejriwal’s party has arrived as a political force. And the man himself might have lost some of his lustre but he is no pushover yet.