The political scenario in Punjab, which had been a two-horse race for the longest time, is about to become a three-way battle with the entry of the AAP into the fray ahead of the state assembly elections in Punjab next year. In the previous years, it had been either been the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), in collaboration with the BJP, or the Congress which had been in power. But this time around, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will throw a real challenge to the other two.
In its bid to come back to power in Punjab after a gap of 10 years, Congress is focusing on the youth, rising unemployment and the growing drugs problem in the state. It is another matter that the AAP too is focusing on similar issues. However, their approach is different.
The Congress party has hired a professional agency - the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) run by Prashant Kishore to run its campaign. After handling successful political campaigns for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the general elections of 2014 and Nitish Kumar’s JD( U) in Bihar, now IPAC has been given the task of bringing Congress to power under the leadership of Capt Amarinder Singh.
AAP has not hired any agency to run its campaign. Short on money, the party cannot afford to do so.
Therefore, AAP is relying on its `fund raising dinner’ programmes. People pay for their dinner and get to meet Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, along with other top leaders of the party.
On the other hand, Congress leader Capt Amarinder Singh is spending money lavishly to run his campaign.
A brainchild of IPAC, the Coffee with Captain programme is being organised in different cities of Punjab like Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Patiala, Jalandhar etc. A gift hamper containing a cap, T-shirt, a notebook and a pen, along with a cup of coffee, water bottle and a packet of snacks is distributed to all the participants of the programme.
This programme is aimed at addressing the youth and their issues - including education and employment. So far, the response to the programme has been encouraging giving a boost to the Congress campaign. The IPAC team has been handling the campaign quite well till now, which has been evident from the responses in different cities.
Both the Congress and the AAP are using the social media to reach out to the youth. The strategy is not just economical, but highly effective as a large number of people can be reached in a very short time.
Capt Amarinder has also launched a programme to enroll volunteers in each of the 117 constituencies of Punjab. The programme, called `Jago Punjab’, is aimed to reach out to the people in the entire state during Captain Amarinder’s march along the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal route.
It was the Congress, under Captain Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister, that had made the historic move of terminating the water sharing agreements in 2004. The Congress party is making it a major propaganda during its campaign, and is projecting itself as the champion of the interest of the farmers in the state.
Another common point in the strategies employed by the Congress and AAP parties is that they both have employed a dedicated team of volunteers to reach out to people on the grass root level. The `door-to-door’ campaign proved to be highly effective during the Bihar elections, and IPAC hopes to reap rich dividends by using the same formula in Punjab.
Since January this year, AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal - the star campaigner for his party - has made three visits to Punjab to address rallies in different parts of the state. Kejriwal received tremendous response from people, giving a boost to AAP’s campaign.
Just as Kejriwal likes to present himself as the face of the AAP party, the Congress too is projecting Capt Amarinder as the party commander in the poll battle. Both leaders also display similar traits. Members of both the parties say that their respective leaders operate in a dictatorial manner, are inaccessible, and take decisions without consulting them.
Both AAP and Congress are leaving no stone unturned to woo the young voters of the state. There is no doubt that the youth have emerged as the most important constituent in the changing atmosphere of the state. Both the Congress and the AAP have recruited a young force of volunteers, who are running the campaign all over the state.
Durgesh Pathak, AAP’s national organisation building head, said that , "connecting with the youth is necessary as they provide the right momentum to any movement or campaign. No party can afford to neglect the aspirations of the youth today."
"The Congress party’s `Coffee with Captain’ is based on connecting with the youth. So far the response has been tremendous,’’ said a woman member of the IPAC while talking to Firstpost in Chandigarh.
AAP has claimed to have online contact with 50 lakh voters in Punjab so far. Congress on the other hand are targeting users through their Facebook page and website.
On the other side of the political divide, the Akalis are almost dismissive of both the Congress and the AAP campaign. Their main vote bank is farmers. They have successfully run the 'panthic' agenda in the past and are willing to bet on the same issue in the 2017 assembly elections as well.
Akalis very cleverly raised the SYL issue in the Vidhan Sabha recently and made it into an emotive issue for the farmers. So successful was the Akali strategy that the Congress and the AAP were forced to follow their agenda of filling the SYL canal.
Kejriwal had earlier declared that Punjab had scarce water resources and that it was not possible to share it with other states. However, it was the SAD which managed to turn the growing anti-incumbency against it in the state to become a champion of the farmers.
On the 'panthic' agenda too, the Akalis have been trying to gain people’s support, although not very successfully. The Akalis have been trying to prove how their nine-year rule has been a success for Punjab. Through facts and figures, they are trying to prove how their rule is behind the growth and progress of the state. The Congress and the AAP have naturally dismissed such claims as false propaganda.
On his vision for Punjab, Capt Amarinder Singh, while talking to Firstpost, said that, "the state will have to tighten its belt and concentrate on priority areas such as education and employment. Taking the youth away from drugs is also a big challenge but something that is absolutely necessary for the survival of the state,"
Commenting on the challenge thrown by AAP, Capt Amarinder said that, "the party (AAP) is divided in factions and the people of Punjab are confused as to which is the real AAP. As for the Akalis, I feel that the people have understood their game plan well in the last nine years and will not give them another chance in the next elections."