Over the last few years, Arvind Kejriwal has slowly but surely shed the image of an anti-corruption crusader. His hobnobbing with the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav, his defeaning silence on corruption cases in Sheila Raj, the brouhaha raised by him when CBI interrogated one of his Babus and many such incidents mark the transformation of Arvind Kejriwal into a quintessential Indian politician. He opposes for opposition’s sake. He raves, rants, swears, abuses and froths at the mouth in his endeavour to be omnipresent on TV screens. From ‘bhagwaan salamat rakhe mere Arvind ko’ to ‘zehreele neta’ to ‘Humein kaam karne dijiye Modiji’, Arvind Kejriwal has been there, done that. Ever since his landslide victory in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has lost no opportunity in trying to extend his empire outside Delhi. His defeat in Varanasi in 2014 notwithstanding, Arvind Kejriwal has since made his presence felt in all state elections to expand his footprint. Of all states of the Indian Union, today, Punjab appears most sympathetic to Arvind Kejriwal and his cause. In fact, it was Punjab that sent 4 AAP legislators to the Lok Sabha at the height of Modi wave. Deeply disappointed with 10 years of Kleptocracy under Badals, Punjab is eager to turn a new page. By the looks of it, Arvind Kejriwal seems all set to wrest Punjab. His only threat is Amarinder Singh, the old war horse, who is capable of staging a comeback for the Congress.
Which is probably why, Arvind Kejriwal is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring an AAP victory a la Delhi when Punjab votes in 2017. He has already kicked off his campaign during the well-attended Maghi Mela rally in Muktsar. He has also been taking time off from his role as Delhi’s CM to strengthen his party’s organization in Punjab. He is also trying to desperately stay in the news (a strategy that worked wonders in Delhi), hence the news reports yesterday that claimed Arvind Kejriwal’s cavalcade has been stoned yesterday. But beyond, all these silly, perhaps laughable strategies, Arvind Kejriwal is playing a dangerous game in Punjab.
For almost two decades, Punjab suffered the curse of strife and militancy. Policies of Congress party and the politics played by the Akalis soaked the fertile soil of the state with blood of its people. Kidnappings, Murder, Ransom became the norm. Extremists demanded Khalistan while the Armed Forces went all out to crush the rebellion. An entire generation of Punjab was lost in wanton bloodshed. With a combination of political measures, response by armed forces and the voice of civil sections of the society, Punjab began to limp back to normalcy. At the beginning of the new millennium, Punjab had definitely turned over a new leaf. The dark days of the past, the sight of a demolished Akal Takht, the hundreds who had been killed, the thousands who went missing- all was cast aside as hope for a brighter future took shape. However, pockets of extremism remained. There was still the occasional demand for Khalistan, Bhindrawale was called a Martyr, Assassin of Beant Singh was made Jathedar at Akal Takht and Sikh politics continued to play in its own mysterious ways. However, all of this happened at the periphery of Punjab’s politics, not much attention was paid to it and life went on. However, Arvind Kejriwal seems poised to wreck the calm and usher in the dark ages.
Arvind Kejriwal’s game in Punjab seems to be two-fold. One is to break the Congress’s (& the BJP which is a minor player in Punjab’s politics) back by wresting the middle class vote. The second is the attempt to wean the Sikh vote bank from the Akalis.
In his pursuit of the second objective, Arvind Kejriwal is going all out and allying himself with the radical, extremist Khalistani elements- all in his pursuit for power in Punjab.
In fact, AAP’s Patiala MP, Dharamvir Gandhi said as much when he said that the party was playing a dangerous game by supporting radical Sikhs in their demands. In November last year, Sikh extremists summoned the Sarbat Khalsa, which passed resolutions for an independent Sikh homeland. AAP leaders, present at the gathering did nothing to oppose the resolution. A few days later, AAP convenor in Punjab, issued a weak, ambiguous statement that Khalistan was not on AAP’s agenda. AAP rallies in the state, attended by MP Bhagwant Mann and Punjab Affairs-in charge, Sanjay Singh frequently feature portraits of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. AAP is cozying up to Baljit Singh Daduwal, a known radical in Malwa, who had once announced his intention to publicly honour Arvind Kejriwal. Arvind Kejriwal also enjoys the support of separatist Gurdeep Singh Brar of United Sikh Movement. Dal Khalsa, an expressly Khalistani entity has also extended support to Arvind Kejriwal as mentioned by its leader, Kanwar Pal Singh. Even before this, AAP has fielded Khalistan supporters as candidates. For instance, Jarnail Singh, who was an AAP candidate from West Delhi in Lok Sabha elections has addressed Khalistan rallies abroad.
There is no evidence yet that Punjab is taking a turn towards more hardline politics. However, there surely exists a small but powerful lobby that raises extremist issues from time to time. Historically, even moderate Sikhs have extended support to hardline elements on emotional issues pertaining to Sikh politics. Arvind Kejriwal’s strategy seems to be to connect to extremist elements and add supporters to his own voter base in his bid to capture power from the Akali-BJP combine. While this may work electorally, India might have to pay a heavy price for Arvind Kejriwal’s detestable political maneuverings. However, as history shows, Arvind Kejriwal is not someone who would shy away from a political opportunity, whatever be the cost. We saw it in Delhi when he described the Batla House encounter as fake, in Mumbai, when his erstwhile colleague Shazia Ilmi exhorted Muslims to be communal and many such instances. What the future holds for Punjab, only time will tell.