Chandigarh, April 16: Even before he reached the venue of his interaction with the Congress leaders and workers at Zirakpur, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi gave a message loud and clear by opting for Congress Legislature Party leader Charanjit Singh Channi to drive him from the UT guest house to the venue and then from there to the airport to board the flight back to Delhi.
Channi is a dalit and dalit population in Punjab is now a little more than 32 per cent. His emphasis was on optics in the beginning itself. It may be mentioned that normally, it is the members of what is known as coterie of state party chief Capt Amarinder Singh who love to drive around senior leaders. Channi was Rahul’s choice today.
This was the first such interaction of the Congress supremo with his party leaders and activists in Punjab designed by his poll strategist Prashant Kishor about whose functioning many of these leaders have their reservations. Rahul mostly listened as the strategy can be fine-tuned only on the basis of such input rather than relying on some select leaders. It was a free-wheeling exercise. Kishor’s team has been working in the field for the last several months like that of the Aam Aadmi Party that started this exercise much earlier covering every booth.
The Congress has been losing since 2007 and there is some degree of demoralization, especially in view of the visible aggressiveness of AAP. This was not the situation when Prashant Kishor worked for Narendra Modi or later for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, his two grand successes. He faces the real challenge in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It is Punjab which is important as this is the only state among those going to the polls in a year that can be the launching pad for the Congress to stage a comeback at the national level. It has to be a do or die battle, not just against the Akali Dal-BJP combine but also AAP.
It is in this context that he had decided to spend a day with the grassroots activists to instill killer instinct in them with the message that the Congress can’t be defeated by others but only by the Congressmen and women themselves. This precisely was the reason for the party handing over the government on a platter to the Akali Dal in 2012 elections contested under the command of Capt Amarinder Singh. This was a victory that was never expected by the Akalis.
The ticket distribution has been one of the major problems of the party earlier as the candidates would be announced at the last minute. In the Akali Dal, hint is given to the person concerned about six months in advance. All the three main parties are already in election mode. Rahul made it clear that the candidates would be announced at the right time with every section getting due representation.
Some voices were heard about formally declaring Capt Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial candidate. He just listened.
His main emphasis was on direct connect of the leaders with the workers at the grassroots. He also exhorted all the main leaders to fan out rather than one or two leaders leading the campaign. Neglect by the party leaders that has been among the major grievances of the party workers in Punjab.
Regarding solution to various ills afflicting the state, Rahul made it clear that the first priority should be to win elections and such issues could be taken care of only then.
During his brief media interaction, his emphasis was on the scourge of drugs, unemployment, farm crisis and the like. He rebutted the attack from Deputy Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal that Rahul had launched a campaign to malign the state youth as addicts saying this was not the case.
“Nobody can insult Punjab. Punjab is the heart of the country. Punjab gives life to the country. There is a place for Punjab in my heart,” he said.
He tried to give another message to Punjab that if elected to power, the Congress government would be sensitive to the aspirations of the people.
He opted out of the controversial issues like the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal. It is both the Congress as well as the Akali Dal that are guilty on this count. The foundation stone of this canal was laid by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but it was the Akal Dal government that issued first notification to acquire land for it in 1978 and made a commitment to complete its construction under the Punjab Accord.