On the busy Aarti Chowk in Ludhiana, a lone volunteer keeps the BJP bhagwa flying amidst dozens of Congress workers jostling to keep their flag fluttering as the white emblazoned with jhadoo dominates the Basant Panchami skyline.
A young woman holds the AAP flag aloft in one hand. With the other, she holds the hand of her five-year-old daughter, who has accompanied her to the square, where they intend to stand as traffic whizzes past. A cold wind makes the AAP flag gently slap the pedestrians passing by.
It a fitting image for the election.
A fierce AAP wind is sweeping Punjab's Malwa region, threatening to change the politics of north India. The Akalis have been swept away ruthlessly. The BJP has been reduced to a helpless spectator. Only the Congress stands in the way, trying to stop the AAP and its own decline into political irrelevance.
What started as an undercurrent in the region that has 69 Assembly seats and thus holds the key to Punjab is now turning into a movement for a paradigm shift in Punjab politics.
In every nook and corner of Malwa, the region that is khabbe paase (left of) the Sutlej, the only noise you hear is that of the impending change.
Punjabis have a unique way of putting into words the change they are trying to vote in on 4 February: "Ina ne saadi 60 saal litti hai. Ae toh maada ki houga. Paanch saal Ina nu bhi mauka de dena hai."
Forget the literal translation, understand just the emotion. What the voters in Malwa mean is that for 60 years, they were used and abused by the Congress and the Akalis by rotation. Since nothing can be worse than this, why not give someone else a chance this election?
So, enter AAP.
That the Dalit-dominated Malwa region was yearning for change was evident in 2014. In the general election, defying the Modi tsunami, it helped AAP sail to victory in four Lok Sabha constituencies.
The winds of change that gathered over Malwa have now turned into a hurricane.
The biggest indicator of popular mood in an election is the voter's willingness to speak his mind, express their poll preferences without fear or hesitation.
Speak to voters in any of the 14 districts of Malwa, this is how the conversation goes:
Akalis have ruined Punjab... cuss words.
What did Congress do for us in six decades... more colorful words.
We are already ruined. What more harm can AAP possibly inflict?
AAP, to its credit, tapped into the anger. For almost a year, it ran an extensive campaign in every constituency.
Navreet Grewal, whose husband left a steady job on the UK to contest from Ludhiana (West), says their teams must have knocked on every voter's door at least thrice in the past six months. Her husband Ahbaab Singh Grewal is pitted against Bharat Bhushan (Aashu) of the Congress, the incumbent with a formidable reputation for being a grassroots worker and a 35,000 vote margin in 2012. The constituency is considered the toughest in the Malwa for AAP. But the Grewals and AAP volunteers battle on, convinced that the wind will take them home.
The reasons for the AAP surge are simple. Hardcore Sikhs are angry with the Akalis because of a series of incidents of burning of their holy book. But, they do not trust the Congress. Only option: AAP.
The 32 percent Dalits of the region, the highest anywhere in India, are in a flux, moving away from both the Congress and the BSP.
And those angry with Akalis because of allegations of corruption and the prevalent drug culture, want an option that will disrupt the existing system. The Congress is seen as status—quoist, a different shade of the same colour.
All these factors have combined to create an AAP wind in Malwa.
Will the AAP ride it to form the government?
The problem with AAP is that it is almost absent in Majha, areas around Amritsar. And it is just about catching up with the Congress in the Doaba region. These two regions have 48 seats. So, unless it sweeps Malwa and wins more than 45 seats, it may find itself short of the magic figure of 59.
For the past two days, Arvind Kejriwal has been camping in Majha, trying to swing the few seats his party has some chance of winning. On Doaba, word has spread that Malwa is in the throes of a revolution.
The final few hours would decide whose flag will fly in the wind blowing over Aarti Chowk, Ludhiana and Malwa.
Published Date: Feb 02, 2017 08:12 am | Updated Date: Feb 02, 2017 09:45 am