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AAP Hopes to Ride a 'Youth Wave' in Punjab's Malwa Region

AAP can credit the massive turnout at its rallies in the Malwa region, where it is hoping to create a Delhi-like wave, to supporters between the ages of 18 and 35. The “youth vote” in Punjab is 53 percent and could give the AAP a decisive edge in the polls.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com

Updated:January 31, 2017, 1:22 PM IST
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AAP Hopes to Ride a 'Youth Wave' in Punjab's Malwa Region
Representative Image (Photo: Getty Images)

Moga, Punjab: It’s nearly 9 pm and over 20,000 people have gathered in a small park in Moga in the biting cold.

Joginder (23) has come from his village, 15 km from the town, to listen to Aam Aadmi Party leader Bhagwant Mann but the Sangrur MP has not yet turned up.

I have been here since 7 pm but I will not leave till I listen to Bhagwant Mann. I have seen his speeches on Youtube. This time, I will see him speak live.

When Mann finally arrives, he is met with a roaring applause. He opens with a joke on how they should let him speak since the Speaker doesn’t let him do so in Parliament.

AAP can credit the massive turnout at its rallies in the Malwa region, where it is hoping to create a Delhi-like wave, to supporters between the ages of 18 and 35. The “youth vote” in Punjab is 53 percent and could give the AAP a decisive edge in the polls.

“I am 23-years-old. I should have had a job by now but I am unemployed. The Akalis have not created any opportunities for people like me. Many people older than me wasted their lives because they got no jobs. I don’t think Akalis and Congress can create any jobs,” Joginder said.

In addition to the drug crisis, unemployment is the other major concern facing young voters in Punjab. According to the 2011 Census, there were nearly 99 lakh unemployed people in Punjab. The 2015 Statistical Abstract of Punjab stated that in 2014, there were over 3.6 lakh job applications pending with employment exchanges in Punjab.

Many feel that both issues are not mutually exclusive to each other. Ajay Kumar (27), who runs a tea shop in Moga, says, “I am a graduate but never found a job. In the end, I was forced to open a tea shop. I was worried about my younger brother falling in bad company and developing a drug habit so I sent him away to Himachal Pradesh to study. He is 19 years old and will graduate soon. I lost my chance when I was young but at least my brother can come back to a job in his home state.”

A senior AAP leader said that Bhagwant Mann has emerged as the party’s “secret weapon” to tap into the youth vote. The Sangrur MP has had a busy few weeks and has been holding 5-6 “Malwa Inquilab” rallies on a daily basis.

“In the Majha region, we are in a tough fight with the Congress but in Malwa, we have the chance to manage a Delhi-like sweep. Even we did not realize how popular Bhagwant had gotten on the ground. He starts at 9 am and addresses rallies till late in the night. He is particularly popular in Malwa. Since he is quite young himself, young voters can easily relate with his bursts of energy on the stage,” the leader said.

At his rallies, Mann has been attacking Congress and SAD leaders over their age. In Moga on Saturday, for instance, he said, “Captain Amarinder Singh says that this is his last election. Captain Sahib, if this is your last election then you shouldn’t fight at all. Enjoy your retirement and spend some time with your family. If someone says it is their last election then you should never vote for them because if they don’t fulfill their promises, you can’t even punish them in the next election.”

He also hit out at Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and said, “After the age of 60, even government employees are told to retire because their judgment can’t be trusted. If that is the case then can you trust the judgment of 90-year-old Badal senior? A young Punjab needs leaders who are invested in the future.”

After his rally, a bulk of his supporters stayed back to dance to AAP’s election anthem ‘Jhaadu waala button dabadeyo, Punjabiyon!’ (Choose the broom, Punjabis). The song is just one of the many ways in which the AAP is trying to ensure talk around itself is sustained till February 4, when the state goes to polls. In other parts of the state, volunteers have prepared street plays to act out the AAP manifesto. AAP slogans have also caught on in rural Malwa. The AAP, however, is the not the only party vying for the youth vote.

Last month, Congress Chief Ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh launched the ‘Har Ghar Captain’ campaign and vowed to give at least one job per household in Punjab. He also promised that an unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 per month would be given to the youth in the first 100 days of his government and has vowed to set aside Rs 10,000 crores for the scheme. The challenge for AAP’s campaign lies in wooing older voters who say they “trust” Captain Amarinder Singh because he is an “old hand” in Punjab politics.

Lucky Gehlotra, a Ludhiana-based trader, said, “I think AAP is making some good points in the campaign but there will be a lot of uncertainty with them. Arvind Kejriwal has a clean image and he is popular here but we have already seen the Congress and they are a steady ship. There is some level of trust with the Congress. Captain may not be a speaker like Bhagwant Mann but he knows how to run the state. In the end, I think the people will go with the established party rather than a new one.”

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| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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