Politics is a game of perception. And perception is not created in a vacuum. It needs substance. Sometimes, politicians forget the fundamentals and want to carve a picture out of nothingness. This is what is exactly happening in Punjab, where elections are round the corner. The Akali-BJP combine is trying to dupe voters with lies and deceit to beat the public surge in favour of AAP, which is set to form the government in Punjab with a massive majority, if opinion polls are to be believed. According to this poll, held in March, it is estimated that AAP might garner more than 90 seats out of 117.
Punjab politics has ritually alternated between the Akali-BJP combine and the Congress. The Akali-BJP combine has been in government for the last ten years with two consecutive terms. The Congress, which narrowly missed the bus in 2012, has been hoping to come back to power comfortably in 2017, but new entrant AAP has upset its dream. Now it has donned upon them that after Delhi, Punjab could be another state where AAP will be the choice of a new awakening and emerge as a formidable force. The Congress is engaged in a battle for not just victory, but its very existence. A defeat in Punjab, where it had assumed that it would be the default choice for the people of Punjab due to the severe incumbency against Badals, will have a cascading effect across the country.
On the other hand, the Akali-BJP is aware that if they lose this time, then it will be very difficult for them to bounce back in Punjab politics. Prakash Singh Badal is already 90-plus and this might prove to be his last tenure as Chief Minister and the last election he fights. He is the most experienced politician in the country along with DMK leader Karunanidhi. His son, Sukhbir Badal, who is 54 , has neither the stature nor the leadership qualities of his father. His tenure as Deputy Chief Minister has further marred his reputation and today he is one of the most hated figures in the state and confronts allegations of deep corruption. The old leadership is fatigued and younger leaders have not emerged. Therefore, the Akali Dal is feeling the real threat of disintegration post-election. Their desperation is understandable.
It is in this context that both the political combines have unleashed a massive propaganda campaign against AAP in the recent past. The effort was to project that AAP is no different from them, it is not the alternative it seems to be. In this game of chess, a few ex-AAP leaders who were expelled or suspended from the party for indiscipline have also been used as pawns. Three kinds of charges were levelled against AAP leaders:
1) AAP is not a native Punjab party, it is led and controlled by leaders from outside the state. An issue of outsider versus local was created.
2. In Punjab, religion plays an important role in politics. Sikhism as an identity is very deep rooted in the psyche of the people. AAP leaders were accused of not being sensitive towards the religious feelings of the people. False charges of the desecration of holy books and disrespecting religious symbols of Sikhism were levelled against AAP leaders. One of our MLAs from Delhi, Naresh Yadav, was arrested. He was charged with hatching a conspiracy to desecrate the Holy Quran which ultimately proved to be untrue as one of the main accused confessed to the media that the local police had pressurised him to name Naresh Yadav.
3. Allegations of moral wrongdoings have also been made against AAP leaders. AAP deserters were used to level charges that senior AAP leaders were seeking sexual favours from women and selling assembly tickets in crores. My name too was also dragged into this. I was accused of selling tickets for 16 lacs each.
A section of the local media was also misused. The cable network in Punjab is totally controlled by the Badal family. No TV channel can run a story which is critical of them. Some channels, in which the Badals are invested, run false and baseless stories for days without any formal verification.
Accusations and innuendo are splashed as breaking news on TV and on the front page of newspapers. Some TV channels completely black out any news related to AAP.
The effort is to confuse voters of Punjab. AAP’s USP is clean and honest politics. The propaganda aims to kill the image that the party has, an image that promises zero tolerance against corruption, an image of not entertaining black money in politics and also otherwise, an image that opposes VIP culture, an image that exposes vulgar display and distribution of money power during elections, an image that empowers common man/woman to contest elections, an image that advocates to make politicians and political parties accountable to common man/woman, an image that involves people in the decision-making process, an image that breaks every myth of conventional politics and openly challenges the discredited establishment.
Most interestingly, in this game, both the Akalis and the Congress are partners. Captain Amrinder Singh, who is spearheading the Congress campaign in Punjab, and Sukhbir Singh Badal don’t talk about each other but waste their time in criticising AAP. The drug problem is a big issue in Punjab. It has ruined a whole generation of youth. Every family is impacted by the drug menace. Sukhbir Badal’s, brother-in-law, Bikram Majithia allegedly has big links to the drug cartel. There are eyewitness accounts and confessions by criminals about him. AAP has taken up this issue in a big way and has promised to send Majithia to jail after forming the government. Most surprisingly, Capt Amrinder has not spoken against Majithia even once.
Similar attempts were also made against AAP during the Delhi elections. AAP was called anarchist. We were compared with Naxals. Even Prime Minister Modi had advised the people of Delhi to “send AAP to the jungles”. BJP leaders and senior cabinet ministers insinuated that AAP’s ideal home was Pakistan. A few called us demons. Finance Minster and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that AAP leaders were caught red-handed and also hinted that a few AAP leaders would end up in jail. But it’s been more than 20 months and nothing has happened. Yes, 14 AAP leaders were arrested by the Delhi police on frivolous charges and in most of the cases, the Delhi police has had to face the wrath of the courts. Scathing remarks have been passed by the judges during bail hearings.
I don’t need to say yet again that despite all the conspiracies hatched at the top, and all the bad mouthing, AAP rewrote the history of electoral politics in Delhi. It won 67 seats out of 70. The BJP, which was the single largest party in 2013, was reduced to three seats in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections. It is said that those who don’t learn lessons from history are thrown into dustbins. Conventional political parties should realise that AAP is a political movement which has the people’s backing. People are angry with the way politics is conducted in India. A new India is emerging. There is a mismatch between the aspiration of this new class and old conventional Politics. AAP represents this class. The Akali-BJP and the Congress are caught in a time warp, and if they don’t change with time, they are doomed.