In Punjab, AAP, SAD future depends on Patiala peg of Congress

In Punjab, the flight plan of defectors is suggesting a triangular contest, with Congress and AAP as joint frontrunners. AAP leaders are joining the Congress, in return, the Congress is poaching AAP leaders. Since carpetbaggers are confused, nobody can predict with certainty who will benefit from the anti-incumbency mood in the state.

Sandipan Sharma December 31, 2015 20:51:41 IST
In Punjab, AAP, SAD future depends on Patiala peg of Congress

The Punjab story is now all about the Patiala peg.

On November 27, when Captain Amarinder Singh returned as Punjab Congress chief, the broadest grin was rumoured to be on Sukhbir Badal's face.

For the past few months, Badal's political future has been, well, under the cloud of anti-incumbency. For him re-emergence of Captain Singh, scion of the erstwhile ruling family of Patiala, must have been the proverbial silver lining.

In Punjab AAP SAD future depends on Patiala peg of Congress

Congress leader Amarinder Singh. PTI

In Punjab, the AAP is making rapid gains, morphing into a dark horse from the underdog it was a year ago. Only Captain Singh, whom Badal calls boodha sher (ageing lion), can devour Arvind Kejriwal and his rampaging soldiers, people believe.

So, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, the de-facto boss of the party and the government in Punjab, the dynast Captain Singh once called a balungda (kitten) and his family giddads (jackals), has reasons to cheer the Patiala peg.

The Love-Hate Triangle

When results of the 2012 Punjab elections started pouring in, the Akalis were shocked. In the run up to the election, the SAD-BJP alliance was almost written off by every analyst, opinion and exit poll, who gave Congress the edge. So, many of them were expecting five years in opposition.
But, the alliance won the election in spite of losing three per cent votes compared to 2007

The Badals won because of the very reason that was expected to cause their demise: the other Badal, chief minister's nephew Manpreet, whose fledgling party polled nearly five per cent votes that could have otherwise gone to the Congress.

Sukhbir is now hoping that the Patiala royal will turn out to be the Manpreet Badal of the 2017 election. And, in a triangular contest between SAD-BJP, AAP and Congress, he will complete a hat-trick of victories.

Analysts and voters agree. "The SAD-BJP alliance can form the next government only if the anti-government votes are split between the other two rivals. And this is why Akalis are happy that the Congress is back in contention with the Captain's return," says former Punjab DGP and activist Shashi Kant.

"Ek hi darr hai, do billiyon ki ladai mein bandar roti kha jayega (the moneky will benefit from the fight between cats)," says Rupinder Singh, as he drives me around Amritsar, echoing the thoughts of Makhan Singh and Nirmal Singh, and practically almost every Singh I asked about the fate of Akalis.

AAP and the Vadra syndrome

Behind the fall of every political dynasty there is a brother-in-law. If the Congress had its Robert Vadra in the 2014 election, the Badals have their Bikramjit Majithia, who, like the other famous damaad, is already seen as the symbol of the decadence of the Badals and drug addiction of Punjab's youth.

Majithia's sister Harsimrat, a minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, is married to deputy CM Sukhbir. Like other members of the family, he is also a minister in the Parkash Singh Badal government.

For the past few years, Majithia has been linked to drug dealers. In 2014, he was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the sale and supply of synthetic drugs in the state. In March 2015, he was accused of receiving the drug money by arrested synthetic druglord Jagjit Singh Chahal.

Chahal, in a written statement to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), has claimed that he had made a payment of Rs 35 lakh to Majithia between 2007 and 2012. According to reports, Chahal had also said he had supplied pseudoephedrine (a chemical used to make drugs) to Satpreet Singh Satta and Parminder Singh Pindi, who are close to Majithia.

The fight is becoming triangular because AAP is gaining ground with a strategy it perfected in Delhi: turn the damaad into a symbol of a government's corruption and failure.

Just like it had pummelled targeted Vadra in 2013, Kejriwal's party has begun its campaign with Majithia as the punching bag. "We will send Majithia to jail after elections, he is the fulcrum of corruption, the man behind the drug trade in Punjab," AAP leader Sanjay Singh, in charge of the state, announced three days ago.

In 2014, when finance minister Arun Jaitley lost the election from Amritsar against Captain Amarinder Singh, it was widely seen as a vote against Majithia, the local MLA and face of the government in Amritsar. So, the AAP believes attacking Majithia can help it stoke the simmering anger against the Badal government.

Can Singh be the king

In an election, a reliable indicator of the outcome is the direction of Aayarams and Gayarams. If opportunistic leaders start quitting a party in droves before an election and join the enemy camp, it clearly shows how the wind is blowing.

In Punjab, the flight plan of defectors is suggesting a triangular contest, with Congress and AAP as joint frontrunners. AAP leaders are joining the Congress, in return, the Congress is poaching AAP leaders. Since carpetbaggers are confused, nobody can predict with certainty who will benefit from the anti-incumbency mood in the state.

Three days ago, when firebrand Congress leader and former MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira, joined the AAP, he blamed Rahul Gandhi for the mess in the party's Punjab unit. He had earlier advocated complete revamp of the party, with new leaders, fresh ideas and innovative slogans to counter AAP.
The challenges Khaira had defined for the Congress will decide Captain Singh's future. "People have seen the Congress and SAD-BJP. They are tired of both," says former cop Shashi Kant.

"The AAP is seen with some amount of suspicion because of its freebies in Delhi. People of Punjab fear that Kejriwal will take away Punjab's electricity and water for distribution. This is one reason Captain Singh still has a chance. Voters see him as a quintessential Punjabi, somebody who will fight for the state's interests," he says.

In 1984, Singh had quit the Congress to protest Operation Blue Star. In 2004, when he was CM, the party high command while terminating the water-sharing agreement with Haryana and Rajasthan. So, people trust him to place Punjab ahead of party politics.

To bolster his chances, the Congress is also planning to address the residual anger against Operation Blue Star, an issue that is back in discussion because of the return of Khalistan in the popular narrative.

There is now talk within Congress circles that Rahul Gandhi would be asked to apologise for Indira Gandhi's decision to send Indian army into the Golden Temple for flushing out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his supporters. All this may or may not help Captain Singh, but Sukhbir Badal won't be complaining. He knows, the more the cats fight, the more chances the monkey has of getting the poll pie.

Updated Date:

also read

Delhi MCD polls: AAP releases second list of 117 candidates
India

Delhi MCD polls: AAP releases second list of 117 candidates

The list of candidates was finalised in a marathon meeting of the AAP Political Affairs Committee chaired by Arvind Kejriwal. Before giving the tickets, the AAP had surveyed all candidates and took public feedback

Alcohol, scams, corruption mark Kejriwal’s tenure, says Anurag Thakur during Delhi civic body poll campaign
Politics

Alcohol, scams, corruption mark Kejriwal’s tenure, says Anurag Thakur during Delhi civic body poll campaign

Campaigning for the BJP ahead of the Delhi civic body polls on December 4, Thakur launched a scathing attack against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his seven years in power

'AAP's old script': BJP hits back on allegations of conspiracy to kill Arvind Kejriwal
Politics

'AAP's old script': BJP hits back on allegations of conspiracy to kill Arvind Kejriwal

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has alleged that the BJP, fearing defeat in Gujarat Assembly and Delhi civic polls, was conspiring to kill Kejriwal and demanded a probe into it