Arvind Kejriwal has a shrewd sense of colour.
On Thursday, at the Maaghi Mela in Muktsar, Punjab, he wore a green pullover and a basanti (saffron) turban to launch his party's campaign for the elections next year.
In a state synonymous with the green revolution and songs of martyrdom with 'Basanti Chola' as the theme, the two colours aptly capture the spirit, culture, history and geography of Punjab. And Kejriwal was trying to convey that he is dyed in the colours of Punjab, every bit the 'Punjab da future' that his supporters are now calling him.
Kejriwal's party is considered the front-runner in the battle for Punjab. The chatter in the pinds and discussions in the cities suggest his is the party to beat in the Assembly election. And the Maaghi Mela proved it.
At the Maaghi (after the Hindu lunar month of Maagh) Mela in Muktsar, the Akali Dal, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party went head to head, organising rallies within metres of each other to showcase their strength ahead of the Assembly elections next year.
Lakhs of people come from all over Punjab to the Maaghi festival to bathe in the holy waters here. In popular perception, the Maghi rallies are a serious affair: they are considered mini elections and pointers to the state's political future.
Since the party with the biggest crowd is generally considered the front-runner, major political parties hire acres of space to gather their supporters under their tents. This year the Akalis reportedly booked an optimistic 60 acres, the AAP an audacious 40 acres and the Congress, too, 40 acres.
Kejriwal, who was camping in Punjab since Wednesday, must have gone back to Delhi brimming with hope. "If elections are held in Punjab tomorrow, we will sweep them," he said at his party's rally, his optimism ignited by the soaring crowd that had turned Muktsar into a sea of jhadoo.
In many ways, there could not have been a better battle ground for the three parties than Muktsar, where the story of human liberation and redemption--the two recurring themes of current Punjab politics--began 310 years ago.
The town was originally known as Khidrane De Dhab. But, when an handful of Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh defeated a huge army of the Mughals here in 1705, it was renamed Muktsar (a liberated city). In the same battle, interestingly, 40 Sikhs who had earlier deserted Guru Gobind Singh, returned to join the battle and got mukti (liberation and redemption) from their guilt.
In the run up to the elections, Punjab is yet again looking for freedom from the tyranny of unemployment, dynastic rule and drug cartels that have turned the state's youth into addicts. It is waiting for yet another battle of Muktsar.
With his intuitive sense for politics, Kejriwal has captured the themes of liberation and redemption, and the imagination of the state's youth. Kejriwal has targeted the drug mafia, threatening to send politicians running and abetting the trade to jail. He has blamed both the SAD-BJP combine and the Congress for the current mess, just like he targeted the chequered history of the Congress and the BJP.
As a result, his rivals are on the edge. As state Congress chief and former chief Amarinder Singh said in an interview with Mint, “This new phenomenon (AAP) which has come, we will have to deal with them.”
Both parties are now attacking Kejriwal and his party, calling them an opportunistic bunch of Dilliwallas who will ruin Punjab. The Akalis feel the AAP is just an urban legend with no appeal in the villages. But, off the record they concede the contest would be triangular with the AAP being the frontrunner among Dalits, the lower middle class and youth.
Kejriwal is now trying to woo the women and hardliners in a bid to widen his base. At the Maaghi Mela he promised stern action against those guilty of the recent sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and vowed to send Bikramjit Majithia, brother-in-law of deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, to jail. As pointed out by Firstpost earlier, Majithia is to the Badals what Robert Vadra was to the Gandhis in the 2013 election: a symbol of the decadence and depravity of those in power in Punjab. He is seen as a symbol of corruption and the drug problem in Punjab. So, targeting Majithia provides popular ballast to Kejriwal firepower.
At the Maaghi Mela, the Akali pandal was almost deserted, indicating that Parkash Singh Badal could meet the fate of the Sheila Dixit government in Delhi. The only question now is, will the results of the election be similar to the 2013 polls in Delhi, leading to a division of seats between AAP and Congress, and, thus, a hung assembly?