SEASONED politicians from the BJP and Akali Dal want the two long-time friends to come together again. But, for now, this seems in suspended animation.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, while the SAD is trying to bank on youth to revive its political fortunes, the BJP is counting on Central schemes to strike a chord in the rural belt, a segment the saffron party had once left for its former ally to take care of.
On November 14, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal launched a ‘Global Youth Membership Drive’ under the aegis of the “Punjab di shaan, saade naujawan (Our youth the pride of Punjab)”. As part of the drive, the SAD aims to give 50% party posts to youth aged 35 or below at the district level, and 40 years or below at the state level, apart from giving them “appropriate” electoral representation.
Youth Akali Dal president Sarabjeet Singh Jhinjer told The Indian Express, “Within 24 hours of the launch of our drive, as many as 12,433 people enrolled as members.” He added that by November 20, around 32,000 people had enrolled for the drive, where anyone joining the organisation needs to give details like the constituency they live in, their phone numbers and a declaration that they aren’t facing any criminal cases.
Senior SAD leader and former Nakodar MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala said, “The party’s focus is now on the next generation. They exercise a huge voice in the decision-making within their respective families at the time of voting. The political spectrum is moved by the youth. So, for any party to remain relevant, focus on the youth is of utmost importance. Hence, the Akali move.”
Jhinjer said the youth who are enrolling would go on to be “future MPs, MLAs and members of the SGPC and zila parishads. At least 60% of the electors are youth, and they are the future leaders”.
The SAD has announced activists who enrol the highest numbers of youth will be chosen as district presidents, with 2,000 being the minimum qualifying number in a district.
The BJP, on the other hand, is focusing on beneficiaries of schemes sponsored by the Centre. Confined mostly to urban areas when it was an ally of the SAD, the Punjab BJP is now focusing heavily on rural areas, including via Shakti Kendras, to create a grassroots party cadre. To begin with, the party plans to appoint an activist each to head booths, and create a team of 15-20 volunteers at the village level.
The ‘Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’, the party’s flagship initiative to highlight centrally sponsored schemes, was kicked off on Wednesday from Ropar and Mohali districts, to be followed by Amritsar on Thursday and culminating in Tarn Taran on December 4.
At a press conference on Monday, Union Minister of State (MoS) for Commerce Som Prakash and Punjab BJP president Sunil Jakhar alleged that the ruling AAP “specialises in taking credit for Central schemes and projects, where it has no singular contribution”.
Som Prakash said that Rs 1,563 crore for four-laning of the Phagwara-Mukerian road and Rs 411 crore for the rail link between Talwara and Mukerian, were both sanctioned by the Centre. He added, “The AAP even tried to take credit for the Guru Ravidass Auditorium, which was built during the previous SAD and Congress governments.”
At a meeting chaired by state BJP organisational secretary Manthri Srinivasulu in Sunam on November 14, party leaders in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency — held by AAP CM Bhagwant Singh Mann once — were told to reach out to the beneficiaries of the Central welfare schemes and seek their support for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Addressing a press conference on November 16, Jakhar accused the AAP government of “swindling and hijacking Central schemes for the distribution of wheat”, targeting its doorstep delivery of atta programme.
He said, “Due to the AAP’s apathy, 1.41 crore beneficiaries who receive wheat under the Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme launched by PM Modi will now get poor quality atta.”