Chandigarh, November 20: It was a Big Day for Punjab as both Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal formally launched their polls campaigns for Assembly elections in Punjab due in February 2017. Informal campaign has been on for about a year by both AAP and the Akali Dal-BJP alliance with the Congress jumping into the fray much later. The launching was a big bang affair with Kejriwal announcing the candidature of Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann to contest against Shiromani Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal while Shah handed over the command to Chief Minister and veteran of many a battles Parkash Singh Badal whom he eulogised at the best chief minister in the country.
Sukhbir hit back within hours throwing a challenge to Kejriwal to himself contest against him from Jalalabad.
Kejriwal was in Jalalabad, the constituency represented by Sukhbir while Amit Shah launched the campaign at a convention of BJP’s booth level workers from 23 constituencies that the party would contest in alliance with the Akali Dal that dates back to 1996.
Significantly, both these leaders preferred to side-track the most burning issue in Punjab-the river waters of which the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal is just one and less significant but the most talked about part.
Kejriwal has made a strategic move to tie down Sukhbir. Mann would follow Sukhbir from whichever constituency he contests. There have been speculations for the last several months about Sukhbir shifting to some other constituency. It may be recalled that in the last Lok Sabha election, the Congress had played this very card to keep the Badal family busy by supporting Manpreet Singh Badal against Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Manpreet then headed his People’s Party of Punjab that he later merged with the Congress.
Bhagwant Mann is the only leader in Punjab AAP who is an attraction for the people in the state. However, he also carries lot of baggage. AAP has not allowed any Punjab leader to gain weight. After a point, the phenomenal rise of this party got a big jolt. According to the repots available, its support base, especially among the weaker sections, continue to be intact but the party lacks a local face. Kejriwal would now camp in the state for ten days addressing a series of conferences to regain the lost tempo. However, a lot of damage has already been done.
His strategy to tie down Sukhbir may not succeed much with the Akali Dal having the advantage of several safe seats. It may be recalled that Parkash Singh Badal has contested the 1997 polls both from Lambi and Qila Raipur, not because there was any risk in Lambi. He later quit Qila Raipur in favour of his home turf.
Congress campaign is already on and Captain Amarinder Singh is going ahead as per the timetable prepared by his poll strategist Prashant Kishor. AAP is already fatigued and factionalised. This election is strategic at several levels, both for the parties and the state itself.
Punjab is a launching pad for Kejriwal, Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Amit Shah minced no words while addressing his party workers at Jalandhar today when he said the NDA would make the beginning to capture other states with victory in Punjab. For the Congress, the issue is of that of survival. Its victory would revive the party that stands marginalised like never before in history. It can make or mar the chances of Rahul Gandhi to emerge as The Leader.
For Punjab, what is at stake is the future as the state is fighting for survival. For this food bowl of the country, the basic issue is the river waters. The Akali Dal has failed to tell the rest of the country that about 75 per cent of the share from the three Punjab rivers is already flowing to Rajasthan and Haryana and that the Satluj-Yamuna link Canal that is to carry more water to Haryana would be the last nail of its coffin.
Ironically, both Shah and Kejriwal made no reference to this most important issue as with the given resources, Punjab can’t maintain its tempo of food production. Successive governments in the state have failed not only by not making capital investment in the farm sector but also by not presenting the river waters issue in the proper perspective. The canal system in Punjab has almost crumbled due to main dependence on tubewells for irrigation due to free power supply.
Let Shah and Kejriwal come out with their stand on this crucial issue of river waters.