BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, Nov 26 | Ahead of the February 2022 Assembly polls in Punjab, a war of words is on between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener and an ‘aam aadmi’ (common man) Chief Minister of the state ruling Congress.
AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is currently touring extensively in the state, where the politics is dictated by the Sikh religious and political dynamics, to drive home his point that his Punjab counterpart Charanjit Channi is a ‘fake aam aadmi’.
Both are trying to prove themselves as the real ‘aam aadmi’.
Even Kejriwal, who is foreseeing a strong undercurrent against the state’s two prominent parties — the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress, both sharing power alternatively with exception in 2012 polls, has been blaming Channi for replicating his successful model of the Delhi governance in Punjab at the fag end of the government.
Contrary to this, Channi is leaving no stone unturned to reach out to the voters, even on doorsteps. The reason: his predecessor Amarinder Singh is blamed for running the four-and-a-half year government largely from his farmhouse located near the foothills of Shivalik hills.
The latest war of words is on the education system.
Reacting to Punjab Education Minister Pargat Singh’s statement that the government schools were better than that of Delhi, Kejriwal on Thursday said if they (people) are really happy and satisfied with the schools and education system of Punjab then feel free to vote for the Congress.
“But if they want brilliant schools and an education system like Delhi, then vote for the Aam Aadmi Party and form the AAP government,” Kejriwal, whose main worry is that since the 2017 Assembly polls his party’s number of legislators has been reduced to 11 from 20, said in a statement.
AAP’s nine legislators either left the party or were suspended or disqualified or shifted loyalties to the Congress.
Joining the issue, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia has challenged Pargat Singh for an open debate.
“Pargat Singh should show the 10 best government schools in Punjab and I will show 10 government schools in Delhi. I am ready for an open debate. Pargat Singh should show courage to accept this challenge. The decision should be left to the public,” Sisodia said.
With his feet firmly on the ground, Channi, who was at helm on September 20, is leaving no stone unturned to describe his government as the ‘government of the common man, for the common man and by the common man’ and himself as ‘brother of every Punjabi’.
He performs ‘bhangra’ and sings folk songs on the reverberating beats of a ‘dhol’ at public functions, favours tea at roadside eateries while narrating couplets to the masses, besides accepting ‘siropas’ (religious robes) enroute by stopping his security cavalcade that has been reduced drastically as he believes a “sheer wastage of resources”.
Three-time Congress legislator Channi (58) comes from a humble background.
Political observers say Channi is trying to build the image of an ‘aam aadmi’ by taking the people along.
“Unlike the previous incumbent, who largely preferred to maintain distance from the public, Channi is regularly meeting and interacting with the people, be it at a public function or at his residence or even on the roadside while travelling,” a senior Congress leader told IANS, requesting anonymity.
“He’s also regularly interacting with the party cadre who was somehow lying low owing to deliberate ignorance for over four-and-a-half years,” said the leader, adding, “Channi is a brother in arms.”
On the day of assuming the charge, Channi, with focus to provide affordable quality healthcare and education facilities to all, said his government is a representative of the poor as he himself pulled a rickshaw in his early life.
Recalling his old days and to relive it again, Channi, who misses no opportunity to dub Kejriwal an outsider, on Thursday spent night at the same gurudwara at village Chand Purana village near Moga town where he had stayed in 2016 during cycle yatra that was carried out to sensitise people against the anti-people policies of the SAD-BJP government.
To counter Kejriwal’s pre-poll promise of providing subsidized electricity to the domestic consumers, the Punjab Cabinet this month decided to reduce the power tariff to consumers having connected load up to 7 KW by Rs 3 per unit.
With this, 69 lakh domestic consumers out of the total 71.75 lakh are going to get benefited. The total annual financial burden on the state exchequer would be approximately Rs 3,316 crore due to this tariff rationalisation, officials told IANS.
Besides, existing free power facility up to 1 KW to the Scheduled Caste, Other Backward Classes and the below poverty line (BPL) categories to continue, allotment of land to the poor, regularisation of properties and government services and filling vacancies in the government.
Before Kejriwal’s programme to meet auto-rickshaw drivers in Ludhiana on November 22, Channi halted unscheduled on his way to listen to their problems.
The Chief Minister, accompanying state Congress President Navjot Sidhu, sat on a wooden bench amongst the auto-rickshaw owners and interacted with them.
In his impeccable style, Channi relished the tea offered by them by dipping a ‘mathi’ in a glass of tea.
Seeing that the Congress is copying his pre-election promises, Kejriwal promised to transfer Rs 1,000 per month into the account of every woman above 18 years in Punjab if his party is voted to power.
He even termed Channi as “fake Kejriwal” and accused the Congress leader of copying his promises without fulfilling them.
“If there are three women in one household — a bahu (daughter-in-law), a beti (daughter) and saas (mother-in-law) — all three will get this amount,” Kejriwal said.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)