In AAP, the three main Punjab parties see a common enemy (News Analysis)

Chandigarh, Jan 29 (IANS) Being dismissed as “outsiders” by the three main political parties in Punjab has hardly dented the resolve of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A silent undercurrent among voters has positioned the newest party on the state’s political scene as a contender to form the government after next month’s assembly elections.

Voters in rural areas, especially among the state’s youth, as well as sections of Dalits, seem to be backing the AAP in the run-up to the elections to the 117-seat assembly scheduled for February 4.

“The Aam Party (as the AAP is commonly referred to in Punjab’s rural areas and towns) is attracting the youth. Many other voters have also become wary of the Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the Congress,” Happy Singh, a taxi driver from Samrala town, 65 km from here, told IANS.

The AAP, which has still not projected its chief ministerial candidate, is banking on its large army of volunteers to make an impact in a state where the fledgling party has seen grassroots support.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha general election, four of Punjab’s 13 parliamentary constituencies elected AAP candidates to the Lok Sabha even as the Narendra Modi wave was sweeping large parts of the country. The AAP drew a blank elsewhere in the country.

“The fact that the Akali Dal-BJP and the Congress see a common enemy in AAP clearly shows how much ground this party has covered in Punjab in less than three years. People are fed up with the same leaders and the same old policies being projected by the Akalis and the Congress. Many voters want to see a change now,” said Swaran Singh, an agriculturist in Sangrur district.

Despite internal bickering in the Punjab AAP unit, including the sacking of its state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur and several units and leaders revolting before and after ticket distribution, the party leadership is confident of getting a majority on its own.

Earlier projections, till the beginning of last year, gave 75-100 seats to the AAP, a party that created ripples when it swept Delhi in early 2015, winning 67 of the 70 seats and handing Prime Minister Modi his first electoral defeat after his sweeping 2014 victory.

Since then, things have changed for AAP as the Congress has gone into overdrive, with state Congress president Amarinder Singh at the helm, to revive the party.

“We are definitely going to have a two-thirds majority and end the mafia rule of the Akalis. The AAP and Akalis are fighting for the 2nd and 3rd positions,” Amarinder Singh said.

The AAP, which led in 33 assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and was second in a few segments, is eyeing increasing its lead in more assembly segments.

The AAP has good support in Punjab’s agriculturally-dominant Malwa belt (south of the river Sutlej) comprising the districts of Sangrur, Patiala, Mansa, Muktsar, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Moga, Ferozepur, Faridkot and Fazilka. This belt accounts for around 70 assembly seats.

“We will do quite well in the Majha belt (north of the river Beas) also. People are extending support to AAP in a big way,” AAP’s Amritsar-south seat candidate Inderbir Singh Nijjer, a doctor by profession, told IANS.

The AAP leaders and cadre will have to work hard in the Doaba (area between the Beas and Sutlej rivers) and Majha to be able to take a shot at power in Punjab.

The party’s support from Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) can help AAP cover some ground on this front.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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