Encroaching on the Sikh heartland: Arvind Kejriwal's 'can-do' attitude is appealing to voters

By H Singh

New Delhi: He stormed Punjab's electoral podium of Muktsar on the wave of an odd odd-even scheme that oddly had Delhi's notorious population of lane-jumpers and jaywalkers rally behind him in solidarity.

For Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwal, the climate couldn't have been better for the Maghi Mela this month at Muktsar. He had grabbed significant mainstream and social media space for launching unprecedented traffic restrictions supposedly to fight off dirty air in the world's most polluted city now under his command.

The chief minister didn't resolve Delhi's particulate problem, but his measure won him the reputation of a "doer" when the country's central government was hardly seen dealing with the national capital's disastrous environment.

On the political front, Kejriwal and his team have also had made loud and successful noises over the CBI's raid at his secretariat, beating the BJP at its own game — Facebook and Twitter.

No wonder then that the turnout at the AAP chief's public meeting at Muktsar outnumbered that of the Congress party and of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) of his Punjab counterpart Parkash Singh Badal and son Sukhbir Singh Badal

The Punjabis of Punjab, unlike the Punjabis of Delhi or elsewhere, are a bit more disgusted by incumbency and endemic corruption — both in politics and in religion.

Encroaching on the Sikh heartland: Arvind Kejriwals can-do attitude is appealing to voters

Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

The lower attendance at the Akali rally the same day can very well be summarized as a potent sign of the ruling Badal family's fall from public favor.

Punjab has traditionally been an electoral battleground between the blue and white turbans - or duppattas, to put it gender neutrally! The blue of the Akalis, including their various factions, and the white of the Congress party.

So, when the state's deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, attacked Kejriwal and his group sarcastically as "topiwallas", he set his stamp on the notion that AAP was no longer a fringe element. Even without that seal, Muktsar showed Kejriwal is set to transform the 2017 election scene in Punjab into a three-way contest.

His yes-we-can style is appealing. Whether he can or not is a different question.

In the last vote, Punjab for the first time gave a second term to a ruling coalition at a time when a Sikh from the Congress party was the country's prime minister.

Had there not been AAP, it would have been a cakewalk for Capt Amarinder Singh to wrest power next year because of the sinking - or sunk - people's approval of the Badals.

Yes, Kejriwal's party will be a key player in the 2017 elections in spite of the fact it is being micromanaged from Delhi. But it will be premature to conclude massive crowds at its Muktsar rally will translate into votes.

AAP has its own faultlines. As of now, it has no strong leader to be its face in Punjab. The tiny pool of its MPs is bereft of political intellect and sophistication.

Rumors are rife former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu may become an Aam Aadmi. Really? Can then he be a candidate for the chief minister's post? Given his typical dominating traits, will he suit Kejriwal? So, there is an ocean of ifs and buts between rumors and reality.

Fortunately for AAP, Khalistan is no longer an issue in Punjab while Sikhism is.

The Badals stand accused of denigrating and misusing the top Sikh administration, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), under their control. So they have sizably lost what they called their Panthak or religious support.

Hardliner outfits have little credibility left.

The time is running out for Kejriwal if he really wants to make history in Punjab.

Rhetoric against him by his opponents will only grow louder, and perhaps effective, if he didn't come out with a fresh Sikh name and face for the state's electoral arena.

That face has to be suave. It has to have a fair understanding of the Sikh psyche. It has to be urban. It has to be moderate. It has to stand out as a contrarian to the attitude of a Raja and the Jagirdari style of an Akali president.

Punjab is ready to experiment, but eventually it won't with mere stemwinders.

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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2016 13:01:04 IST

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