It’s advantage Akalis in Punjab, courtesy AAP, Congress self-goals (News Analysis)

Chandigarh, July 10 (IANS) Political self-goals by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress have put Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in an advantageous position just months ahead of assembly elections in the state.

The AAP leadership has been left red-faced by two developments and has been forced to seek apologies and even offer to do voluntary service to “atone” for the political sins of its leaders.

The two AAP self-goals came in the past week when it first released its ‘Youth manifesto’ in Amritsar, which has led to a major controversy, and then had its leader Ashish Khetan compare the manifesto with religious scriptures like the Granth Sahib, the Bible and the Gita.

The manifesto, on its cover, carried a photograph of the Harmandar Sahib, the holiest and most revered shrine of Sikh religion, along with the picture of a broom, the AAP symbol.

This gave the ruling Akali Dal, its alliance partner the BJP, the opposition Congress and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), enough fodder to go hammer and tongs against the AAP, which has emerged as a strong challenger to the three main political parties for the assembly elections next February.

The AAP’s twin gaffes stirred the religious sentiment in Punjab which the Akali Dal was quick to pounce upon and take advantage of.

Before this, in March-April, the AAP leadership showed political immaturity in dealing with the sensitive issue of sharing water from Punjab rivers with neighbouring states and Delhi. The Akali Dal cornered the Kejriwal government on this issue. The handling of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots issue by the Delhi government too has put AAP on the back foot.

The AAP leadership, which is already in the firing line of other parties and leaders as being a “party of outsiders” (their top leaders being from outside Punjab), has, for the first time in many months, been put on the defensive. The AAP was, till March, touted to be the front-runner to form the next government in Punjab.

Top AAP leaders, including national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, will have to work overtime in coming months to recover the lost political ground.

If the AAP gave the Akalis an opportunity to make a political recovery, the Congress was not too far behind.

The Congress central leadership forced the state unit’s leaders run for cover when it suddenly decided to appoint former union minister Kamal Nath as its Punjab in-charge.

Kamal Nath’s name was once linked to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He became an embarrassment and had to resign to save the situation for the party. But, this did not happen before the Akalis made the maximum capital from the episode.

Kamal Nath’s replacement, controversial Congress leader from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, Asha Kumari, who was convicted in a land grab case last year, too did not help matters for the Punjab Congress.

Before this, Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh chose to travel to the United States and Canada for three weeks in April-May. Though the trip was meant to woo the influential NRI community from Punjab, it turned into a virtual holiday for Amarinder Singh and his close aides as the Canada leg ran into legal issues; Ottawa advised against travelling to the country.

Amarinder Singh’s three-week absence from the Punjab scene gave the Akalis enough time and ground to cover their political tracks.

In sum, though assembly polls are over six months away, even a small slip by any of the big political players is bound to give the advantage to the others.

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

–IANS

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