Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab: the X-factor?

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Amritsar:  With all the high profile battles of Punjab - whether it's the Arun Jaitley vs Captain Amarinder Singh contest in Amritsar, Harsimrat Kaur Badal vs Manpreet Singh Badal fight in Bhatinda or Pratap Singh Bajwa vs. Vinod Khanna faceoff in Gurdaspur - hogging all the attention, could the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerge as the X-factor?

The AAP has put up candidates for all 13 seats in the state which has traditionally seen a direct face-off between the Congress and the Akali-BJP alliance.

From a cardiologist in Patiala, a lawyer in Ludhiana, an ex-independent MLA in Gurdaspur to a comedian in Sangrur, AAP has less baggage compared to both the Congress and the Akalis. The Congress is fighting a 10-year anti-incumbency at the Centre and the Akali-BJP state government is battling anti-incumbency for its seven year rule in Punjab.

Former two-time independent MLA Sucha Singh Chhotepur faces BJP's Vinod Khanna and Congress' incumbent MP Pratap Singh Bajwa in Gurdaspur. "Both were given a chance, but they haven't done any work. They both have angered people. They will be wiped out," says a confident Mr Chhotepur.

Also a strong contender is comedian and actor Bhagwant Mann fighting from Sangrur facing off against sitting Congress MP Vijay Inder Singla and the challenger SAD's candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

In Ludhiana, it's a fight between Congress' Ravneet Bittu, Akali's Manpreet Ayali and well known anti-riots advocate HS Phoolka. AAP leader Yogendra Yadav who's canvassing for the party's candidates in Punjab feels the party has a real chance. "I've been travelling through Punjab and I've seen a wave. The response here is even better than what I saw in Delhi a few days before the assembly elections," he stresses.

The AAP has managed to make it a three-way fight in more than half the 13 seats of Punjab. In some constituencies in Punjab where AAP candidates have enjoyed a personal goodwill and support even before they got the backing of a political party to fight elections, people also talk of a silent vote that could go the AAP's way cutting into the votes of both the Congress and the Akalis. "So far people didn't have an option other than the Congress or the BJP-Akali. People have tried both. At least now there is an alternative," said a shopkeeper in Batala.

When asked about the prospects of the AAP, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said, "This party is like a disease. You have to remove it from Punjab."

It's the clean image and a relatively clean slate that the AAP hopes can sweep the anger against the two big players in its favour in the form of votes.

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