For his critics and those swayed by the chatter on social media, Arvind Kejriwal's incessant attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been either a subject of mirth or consternation.
His predilection for blaming Modi for everything — except perhaps his chronic cough, at least so far — has often earned Kejriwal the diagnosis of being obsessed with the prime minister
But, the AAP campaign in Punjab shows Kejriwal benefitted from his consistent attacks on Modi. His image of a warrior trying to punch way above his weight helped the AAP position itself as the nemesis of the Badals, the party that would punish them for their alleged misrule and graft.
Though several issues dominated the election in Punjab, where voting was held on 4 February and counting is scheduled for 11 March, the common denominator was the voter's desire to extract ''Badla from Badals." After 10 years of rule, the family that ruled Punjab appeared to have become extremely unpopular. Blaming the Badal family for mismanagement, corruption, unemployment and rampant use of drugs, voters wanted to use the vote to not just vote them out but also avenge the perceived injustice and alleged misuse of power for personal and party gains.
Punjabis, unlike voters in other parts of the country, are surprisingly vocal about politics. They do not hide their voting preferences and, if asked, lucidly explain the reason behind the choice. This election, voters were speaking out aloud against the Badals, reciting a litany of woes, vowing to punish them with their vote. In many places, voters used uncharitable words for Sukhbir Singh Badal, chief minister Parkash's son and state's deputy chief minister, and his brother-in-law Vikramjit Majithia. The common allegation was that while Sukha — the dismissive name for junior Badal popularised by AAP leader Bhagwant Mann — had usurped all businesses, his brother-in-law was behind the rampant drug culture.
The AAP caught on to this anger early on in the campaign. Reflecting the mood on the ground, Mann turned the Badals into a butt of jokes with his catchy limericks and satire. But, Kejriwal was even more severe with repeated promises of sending Majithia and the Badals to jail. Kejriwal's record on such threats is bad. In the past, he has promised to send former chief minister Sheila Dixit to jail and carry out a war against crony capitalism. But, his threats have remained just that.
Yet, many Punjabis took his claims seriously this year and saw him as the pivot of the anti-Badal campaign. What helped Kejriwal in Punjab in spite of his dubious record as an anti-graft crusader in Delhi was his history of taking on Modi, being his stringent critic and not making any compromise.
Though the Congress had a strong regional satrap, Captain Amarinder Singh, as the leader of its campaign, the perception that gained ground was that Kejriwal is better suited to root out the Badals. The common refrain was: If he doesn't fear Modi, why would Kejriwal let the Badals go unpunished? This belief, in the end, helped his party become a major beneficiary of the anti-Badal vote.
The Congress too tried to tap the anger and the yearning for 'Badla from Badals' among voters. In rally after rally, Captain promised to punish those guilty of desecrating the Guru Granth Sahab and prosecuting leaders guilty of graft and promotion of drug culture. But, Kejriwal's anti-establishment credentials helped him win the confidence of voters.
Kejriwal's acceptability among voters, in fact, was a big surprise. Considering its history of a long movement for Khalistan and Hindu-Sikh rivalry, the idea of a Haryanvi bania, becoming acceptable to the Punjabis seemed a daunting task. Yet, Punjab resonated with the AAP anthem of "Saara Punjab tere naal Kejriwal" and the catchy "Ghar-ghar gaala howe Kejriwal diyan" underlining his popularity. Ironically, Kejriwal seemed more acceptable to the Sikhs, even the radicals, compared to the Punjabi Hindus who seemed inclined more towards the Congress and the BJP.
If results of the election favour the AAP, Kejriwal would certainly see it as an endorsement of his stringent anti-Modi campaign and the image of a relentless crusader. The next round of election is in Gujarat, where the BJP is in power but under attack from Dalits and Patidars led by Hardik Patel. The AAP has already announced that it would soon take the battle to Modi's home turf. Expect Kejriwal to raise his anti-Modi pitch by several decibels after results in Punjab are announced.
Updated Date: Feb 06, 2017 15:50 PM