In the middle of the controversy around 'Udta Punjab', the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi has announced yet another populist measure of making Panjabi language must in all government schools in the state.
The Delhi government declared in a public advertisement printed in many Hindi dailies and a few English newspapers that Punjabi language has been made compulosry in all government schools in the National Capital to "boost" the language. It also said that every school would have at least one Puanjabi teacher and that their salary has been raised.
This ad shows how much determined the AAP is to do well in Punjab in next year's Assembly election. The party of Arvind Kejriwal, which won all its four seats in the northern state in the last general election, is aiming to change the bipolar political equation in Punjab by challenging both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine and Opposition Congress.
Punjab politics has changed over the years
Punjab's politics has undergone a big change in the recent years. From the ethnicity-based identity which was dominated by the cadre-based and ideology-driven 'panthic' SAD, the state's politics is more a sub-regional game which is boosted by populism.
The SAD's good show in 2012 was more made possible by the electoral management of Sukhbir Singh Badal, the state's deputy chief minister and son of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The SAD took the populist way of doling out freebies that also brought the Dalits' votes to its kitty.
But the party, which has been in power for two consecutive terms, has now been hit by anti-incumbency, lack of fulfilment of the populist promises and serious social menaces like corruption and mafia (drug, sand, liquor etc etc) activities. The Akalis have been facing the blame for whatever ill Punjab is facing today and their plight has been doubled by the alienation of the traditional rural support base, mainly comprising Jat Sikh peasants.
It looks AAP is set to pay SAD-BJP back in its own coin of populism in Punjab
The anger against the SAD is so much so that it has almost found itself detached from its popular image that stood for 'Punjab, Punjabi and Puanjabiat' and has been facing flak for doing little to save Punjab and its youth, farmers and religious supporters.
The high number of cotton farmers' suicides and dishonour shown to the revered Guru Granth Sahib through desecration are also issues that have irked the common sentiments against the establishment. The SAD is trying to overcome the odds by pursuing a string of populist measures but will it help this time?
BJP a secondary force while Congress is not the flavour of the time: That leaves us with AAP
The BJP is a secondary force in the state and would not harbour any ambition to do something drastic. The Congress, although is led by the old war horse Captain Amrinder Singh, but is too much engaged in fighting feuds in the party. The 2002-07 regime of Captain Singh is also not known for efficiency and honesty.
And the not-so-happy picture with either of the three main players has brought the AAP to the fore. Although Kejriwal's party did not have a happy run in the state since winning the four Lok Sabha seats as it lost two subsequent by-elections in the state and also faced dissent, but carried out its campaigning on the ground well. Known for its populism, the AAP will look to pull the carpet from under the feet of the SAD and Congress by announcing freebies and targeting the farmers and Dalits. In another populist bid, the party has also asked its workers to wear 'Basanti' turbans instead of the cap.
Kejriwal has already inched forward on his Mission 2017 by making Udta Punjab a political debate and making the Punjabi language a must in Delhi state schools. He will certainly back it up with more such acts to achieve a BJP-Mukt Punjab next year.