In the 2017 assembly elections of Punjab, what perturbed many observers was the fact that while the Congress was trying to unseat the Akalis who were in government, Captain Amarinder Singh’s vicious attacks were mostly aimed at the Aam Aadmi Party. But then he is politically astute and he understood that it could be a matter of time before AAP would make major inroads into Punjab politics. It did come as a shock when AAP won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the Captain’s family bastion of Patiala. Though he regained it in 2019 when his wife won from here, the damage, in terms of cracks in the citadel, had been done.
Cut to today. One of the most bitter fights on the farmers’ issue in Punjab is being played out between Captain Amarinder Singh and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. But this is what, AAP hopes, could be a turning point for it in the state.
The Akalis have been discredited to a certain extent as they were a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and also the cabinet meeting which approved the Narendra Modi government’s farm reform bills. The departure of the Akalis from the NDA was seen as a desperate act in damage control. And this may hurt them politically in the state which AAP wants to use to its advantage. Delhi’s ruling party wants to now branch out and conquer Punjab which explains its fierce attacks on the Captain.
When the Punjab chief minister met union home minister Amit Shah a few days ago, he came out to appeal to the central government and to the protesting farmers. Punjab being a border state could face security issues, he pointed out, and so the farmers should consider ending their protests. Kejriwal and AAP pounced on him, accusing Amarinder Singh of softening his stand towards the BJP and Centre as his son is facing heat from the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Now the Captain has been never shy in taking on his rivals, even accusing them of being sneaky. And in fact he called Kejriwal that. With the heat on him too over the farmers’ stir and security concerns in his state, the last thing the Captain would want is AAP succeeding in Punjab. And on a potent emotive issue like the plight of farmers in a state where they constitute the most powerful electoral force, Amarinder Singh is fighting a battle of perception with Arvind Kejriwal as he is now being accused of trying to protect his son by compromising on the farm row.
Even though the Congress leader has often publicly said this could be his last tenure as chief minister, those who know him say he is unlikely to step down. He has the mettle and fight in him still and would not want to give up. And he certainly would not want to lose to AAP.
The Aam Aadmi Party wants to use the vacuum it feels has been created in Punjab. It hopes the anti-Akali votes go to it. And with disenchantment in the Congress over the Captain’s style of exercising control may help AAP get the anti-Congress votes as well. Given the nature of Punjab’s politics, where aggression is seen as a virtue, AAP has upped the ante against the Congress. It’s for these reasons that Captain conceded to the Gandhis’ request that Navjot Singh Sidhu should be placated and there is a possibility that he may be reinstated as a minister as well. Sidhu gathers crowds and he was being wooed by AAP. Captain, who is seeing the writing on the wall, is ready to compromise but wouldn’t want to cede even an inch to AAP and Kejriwal.
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