Local issues trump national agenda as Opposition campaign picks up in Punjabhttps://indianexpress.com/elections/local-issues-trump-national-agenda-as-opposition-campaign-picks-up-in-punjab-5647687/

Local issues trump national agenda as Opposition campaign picks up in Punjab

In Punjab, the agenda is being dominated by agrarian distress, poor state of economy, farmers' suicides, farm loans, drugs and Panthic issues.

Local issues trump national agenda as Opposition campaign picks up in Punjab
A recent protest by farmers in Ludhiana. Gurmeet Singh

As electioneering picks up in Punjab for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, political meetings being held by leaders of various political parties reveal that the focus on issues is not much different from the 2017 Assembly polls.

National issues like performance of the NDA government and the Balakot air strike have taken a back seat in that state, where the agenda is being dominated by agrarian distress, poor state of economy, farmers’ suicides, farm loans, drugs and Panthic issues.

Several opposition parties already have their candidates out in the field and are indulging in Akali and Congress bashing.

State president of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Sangrur MP, Bhagwant Mann, who is seeking re-election from the constituency, has been observed to focus on his performance as MP and utilisation of the MPLAD fund. The only reference that he makes to the policies of the central government at national level is when he tells his audience that he has been persistently asking in the Lok Sabha: “Modiji achhe din kab aayenge”. Follow more election news here.

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Mann indulges in Akali and Congress bashing by rotation. He does not hold back strong adjectives while attacking former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal or SAD president Sukhbir Badal, drawing laughter from the crowds. The attack on Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and the Congress government in the state comes in the form of agrarian distress and the failure to provide a job in every household.

Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP) leader Sukhpal Khaira, who launched his election campaign from Bathinda on March 25, is also focussing on local issues.

While the Akalis face flak from him for the incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, he attacks the Congress for failing to live up to the promises made in the run up to the Assembly polls. He is particularly harsh on the Congress for failing to control the drug deaths in the state and the continuing farmer suicides.

“University placement fairs are being touted as job fairs by the state government and an attempt is being made to fool people by juggling figures like providing jobs to 300 people per day. I met a postgraduate youth the other day who was offered a job of security guard in Gujarat at a salary of Rs 12,000 per month in one such so-called placement fair,” he said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Bir Devinder Singh, a veteran politician of the state and a candidate from Anandpur Sahib constituency for the SAD (Taksali) party says that there are no takers for national issues in Punjab. “The reason is that the economy of the state is in such a bad shape, the rural distress of farmers and the anger of the unemployed youth as well as the government employees towards the state government is such that there is no space for any other issue. Panthic issues and region specific issues will also be raised along with the economic issues in these elections and no one will buy any nationalist argument,” he said.

Former AAP member, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, who is seeking re-election as MP from Patiala on the ticket of his newly floated Nava Punjab Party, says that Punjab has no space for ‘chauvinistic politics’ of the Centre. Dr Gandhi, adds that the Congress in the state is facing a “premature anti-incumbency”.

“There are immigration agencies at every nook and corner in Punjab as youth want to leave for other countries due to lack of job avenues. Drugs are still as big a problem as they were in SAD-BJP rule. The agrarian distress is not showing any signs of going away. In such circumstances there is no space for any national agenda to dominate the Lok Sabha polls,” he said.

The BJP, which is expected to use the Balakot air strikes and the Uri surgical strikes theme aggressively in its political campaign has been unable to make a early start as the party is yet to decide on the three candidates that it will put up in Punjab.

“Our campaign will definitely focus on national governance and we will highlight the achievements of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. There is no question of playing down the nationalist agenda of the party and we are well aware of the local issues also. We will highlight the failures of the Congress government in the state in the last two years and the failure of the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, to live up to the expectations of the people,” said a senior BJP leader.

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