By: Raju William
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh would have definitely never gone to Lambi constituency to challenge his arch rival and CM Prakash Singh Badal who has been winning from this seat since 1997. The Akali supremo’s native village Badal is part of this constituency.
More so, Congress would have neither even thought of fielding its another big gun Ravneet Bittu, the sitting Ludhiana MP from Jalalabad, another high profile constituency from where Akali Dal president and Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal is contesting. Whether the outcome turns out in favour of the father-son duo due to division of anti-Akali votes is a different story.
In both cases, however, Congress owes its late bravado to Arvind Kejriwal. It was he who, as the original challenger, dared Congress to prove its ‘genuine’ anti-Badals’ political credentials by contesting from both seats. It may have done the right thing lest the electorate may see merit in Kejriwal’s macro strategy of branding Congress and Akalis being hand-in-glove, as ever. But doing so, it danced to Kejriwal’s tune.
Whatever the outcome of this 2017 Punjab Assembly poll, it is the first serious triangular poll battle in the state’s history whose agenda is set not by the traditional opponents-Congress and Akalis- but by the third entity on the horizon that is Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). So all the rant by both parties from day one that Kejriwal and even the Punjab unit of AAP is a bunch of ‘outsiders’.
Right from the beginning, Kejriwal wove a web which the seasoned and native leadership of both parties failed to see. He succeeded in yoking both parties together. Both were presented to the electorate as the one, common enemy. This was a deft move to turn the triangular contest to direct one to prevent division of votes.
Much to chagrin of Congress and Akalis, they realized having been trapped quite late. Both had discarded AAP as a reincarnation of People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), a fledgling outfit floated by now Congressman and nephew of CM Badal before 2012 Assembly poll. The fate of AAP was erroneously predicted going the PPP way, a complete rout by none other than senior Badal while campaigning in Delhi Assembly poll.
Both parties are increasingly playing reactive politics, heavily rhetorical as the poll date nears. Their tendency to react to anything related to Kejriwal, amusingly more than AAP, clearly shows who is calling the shots. The way Manish Sisodia’s comment at a public meeting in Mohali this month was distortedly termed by Capt Amarinder and Sukhbir Badal as Kejriwal’s attempt to become Punjab’s Chief Minister is the case in point.
The statements by top leaders of both parties are touching ridiculous limits. Both try to outdo each other and end up targeting Kejriwal. Today Harsimrat Badal backed Capt Amarinder's plea to Election Commission to send back Punjabi NRIs from Canada campaigning for AAP. The language and the timing of their poll statements too ends up being so identical that readers might have felt strained to differentiate. Kejriwal’s AAP did not wait for its both rivals to release the poll manifestoes. Congress did so only in the beginning of January and the Akalis just ten days ahead of the poll date.
And yes BJP does not deserve much mention for its positioning against Kejriwal personally and AAP in general because it is not, in any way different, from its alliance partner Akalis. Most of its time in run up to the poll has been consumed in setting its own house in order. It could finalise its candidates less than three weeks ahead of poll.
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