Chandigarh, April 20: Punjab Assembly elections February 2017 seems to be shaping up as clash between election strategists versus the titan in Parkash Singh Badal. Yet another significant aspect is the lack of ideological content to the extent that it can be termed as apolitical election. It might seem to be odd but the trend emerging from the politics of the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress points to that. Under focus is the youth and ironically, youth in Punjab has been part of strong Left and Right movements for more than three decades beginning the Naxalbari movement. Those movements were also rooted in rising ambitions and aspirations.
AAP is launching Punjab Dialogue from April 23 and it is proposed to organize ten such interactive sessions all over the state on the basis of which manifesto for this section would be evolved. The Punjab Dialogue is to cover every section of society. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is likely to release this manifesto.
Both AAP’s state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur and its star campaigner and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann were silent spectators at the press conference where Punjab Dialogue was announced. This perhaps was the most significant aspect.
What is new about Punjab Dialogue is only marketing. It is going to be the same discourse about drugs, unemployment and the like.
Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor has already launched state party chief Capt Amarinder Singh as Punjab Da Captain with the beginning having been made by organising direct dialogue with the youth, particularly the students. He is also facing uncomfortable questions. With the strategy being focused on marketing Brand Amarinder, other party leaders feel sidelined despite exhortation by Rahul Gandhi to work as a team. The poll strategy is personality based.
The same people, youth in particular, were mobilized by Shiromani Akali Dal President and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in 2007 elections who used to be directly in touch with him. For years, Sukhbir had worked among the people earlier and concentrating on youth was part of his strategy. It was with this objective that he launched Students Organisation of India, the student wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal. However, during the second term it is this section that got alienated from Sukhbir in particular and the Akali Dal in general.
At one time, it was this youth that was part of the Naxalite movement whose student wing was the Punjab Students Union, the most powerful student organisation in the state in seventies till it was over taken by the All India Sikh Students Federation during militancy. Those were ideology based organisations.
Parkash Singh Badal himself has just one point strategy and that is about being among the people. Shiromani Akali Dal used to be the party of Aam Aadmi for decades till it turned elitist under Sukhbir’s command who tried to introduce corporate style of management in political affairs. At one level, the poll management by the so called strategists flow from the same corporate culture. The new factor is heavy dependence on mass communication media to influence the mind of the voter.
Punjab is different from all other states. It passed through a long dark tunnel from which the state took about a decade and a half to emerge and in the process, a lot of damage was done at every level.
The first normal government that was formed in Punjab after that tragic period was that of the Akali Dal in alliance with the BJP and headed by Parkash Singh Badal in his third term in 1997. The governance had been completely wrecked by that time. There was no hope for the youth. However, the Badal government failed to address the basic issues.
The situation worsened during the Congress government headed by Capt Amarinder Singh when even recruitment to the government services was stopped. Both the education and health sectors crumbled. The Badal government that has been in power since 2007 took no steps to strengthen the key social sectors. The issue is not that of creating a few thousand jobs in the public sector.
Punjab is in need of alternative model of development. What AAP is talking about is alternative model of governance.
It is pertinent to recall economic aspects of the much maligned Anandpur sahib Resolution of 1973 as the objective outlined were revolutionary for the state and rooted in reality in that period. This has been referred to in the context of the Akali Dal being closer to the people for decades and those were the programmes that emerged out of dialogue at that time. Even the Akali Dal has forgotten its once Aam Aadmi character after the party turned dynastic killing its democratic ethos.