Is AAP's Presence Growing In Punjab? An NDTV Ground Report

Some farmers NDTV spoke to told us a new party should be given a chance.

Time will tell how much of the support translates into votes when the big day arrives

Chandigarh:

The battle for Punjab, which goes to polls early next year, has intensified with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party pushing hard to expand its turf beyond Delhi.

Kicking off its 'Mission Punjab' campaign in Amritsar, Arvind Kejriwal said: "Just vote for us once, give us a chance then you won't feel the need to vote for anyone else."

Last time the AAP won 20 of the 117 seats in Punjab. Their MPs fell from 4 in 2014, to just 1 in 2019.

But on ground, is the party's presence growing? NDTV witnessed an air of dissatisfaction against the Akalis, BJP and the Congress. What is working for the AAP in Punjab is the internal tussle within the Congress party. What is perhaps not working in favour of the AAP is its MLAs switching sides.

In central Amritsar, a Congress bastion, the ruling party dominates the hoarding space. The MLA here is Om Prakash Soni, the Deputy Chief Minister of the state.

Others, like Sukhdev Singh, who has served the Congress party as a ward worker for the last 40 years, say they may jump ship. He told NDTV: "Congress gave me a ward and I have served the party for last 40-45 years...have seen governments come and go. They do nothing. I feel AAP should be given a chance now, if they come at least the poor will get what they deserve."

Jyoti Khanna, who voted for the Congress in 2017, says the party did not live up to its poll promise of a drug free state., a poll promise that wasn't fulfilled, she says. "Capt saab said he will make Punjab ''nasha mukt" but the drug problem is still around. I see young boys lying around, injecting themselves...Punjab must give AAP a chance," she told NDTV.

The coronavirus pandemic forced Manpreet Singh, a religious artist, to drive e-rickshaws for a living. Born and raised in Punjab, he says the youth wants a change.

"Ever since I have gained consciousness it has always been Akali vs Congress. The youth wants change... They (Congress, SAD) are riled up because they know the right man has come to Punjab and if he wins he is not going back," he told NDTV.

However, in Moga, in Central Punjab, women voters do not appear to be impressed by Mr Kejriwal's promise of Rs 1,000 a month if voted to power .

Lavly Singla, a Moga resident, said, "Channi government is doing a very good job. He has waived off electricity bills, people are satisfied with his work. Kejriwal said he will deposit Rs 1,000 in every woman's account but that is not enough."

Mr Kejriwal marked his first visit to the state shortly after PM's announcement of repeal of the three farm laws. Some farmers NDTV spoke to told us a new party should be given a chance.

Manpreet Singh, a young farmer, told NDTV: "If AAP makes Bhagwat Mann its Chief Minister then they have huge chances of winning. Governments will make 100 per cent promises but only deliver 5 per cent. Previous governments have not given compensation."

Not just political 'freebies', but appropriating Bollywood and sports personalities, like Sonu Sood, who hails from Moga - a politically significant place for the state - and wrestler Khali into the party is also a factor adding to the party's popularity.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who resigned amid internal feud in the party, told NDTV that the turbulence within the state party has come as a godsend to Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party.

The AAP, he said, is on the rise in the state, fuelled by the decline of the Congress and this, he said, has been the findings of a recent survey by his former party.

The survey -- done by the Congress between July and September -- shows that it has "seen a 20% decline", said the former Chief Minister.

"This election will be very different with the Congress, AAP, Akali Dal, factions of the Akali Dal, and there may be another front emerging too... so, it will be a very different election," Mr Singh told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

Time will tell how much of the support that the AAP enjoys translates into votes when the big day arrives.

.