With its age-old reputation of being vocal and aggressive, the Majha electorate is not mincing any words when it comes to blaming Punjab’s two traditional political powerhouses of the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) of not delivering on their repeatedly made poll promises. And this is the precise reason that the Aam Aadmi Party seems to have found a foothold in the region.

Like elsewhere in Punjab however it remains to be seen whether AAP manages to convert its connection with the electorate into actual votes and seats. In the last assembly polls the party had scored a big duck here.

Majha constituted the core of undivided Punjab and its geographical expanse lies between the rivers Ravi and Beas, deriving its name from the term ‘manjhla’ meaning the middle one. A distinct feature of this belt is the prevalence of high religious sentiment that gets translated into the politics of the Panth often read as the Sikh community.

With the holy city of Amritsar being its biggest district and the place of the Akal Takht, often referred to as the Sikh parliament, it is Panthic politics that dominates the political narrative in Manjha, which sends 25 legislators to the Punjab assembly.

But this time round it is the real issues of the people that are overriding the Panthic narrative. This is another reason for the brightening of AAP’s fortunes, as the party stands nowhere on Panthic issues that have largely been the domain of the SAD and Congress apart from the radical groups.

As far as the Panthic issue of the desecration of holy texts goes, both traditional parties are in people’s firing line for having failed to deliver and take things to the logical conclusion. The Akalis had paid a heavy price for incidents of ‘sacrilege’ in 2017 and this time it is the Congress facing the music.

Another issue was that of the prevailing drug menace that has found little importance in the poll campaign as both traditional parties have failed on this front as well. The Aam Aadmi Party hasn’t quite gone to town with the issue as then it would have to explain the apology tendered by its national convener Arvind Kejriwal to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia on the issue after the last polls. AAP’s present chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann too had resigned as state unit chief on the issue of the apology and had to be wooed back later.

You only have to scratch a bit and the anger of the masses comes pouring out. “One cannot wish the drug menace away. How can it be a thing of the past when political elements are involved in the entire racket?” said a rickshaw puller from Tarn Taran earning his livelihood on the roads of Amritsar.

People are very annoyed with the Congress and the Akalis for also failing to develop any employment avenues in the area that would boost their incomes and the economy as a whole.

“The consuming power of the people remains very low here. There are no industries and not much of a service sector here. Hence the take home incomes remain very low,” pointed out Pradeep Kumar, who moved back to Amritsar city after having worked as a tuition teacher in Badarpur in Delhi. He is presently making ends meet by having invested in an e-rickshaw.

People point to the menace of underemployment, and say that the youth are highly depressed and frustrated at not being able to earn decent wages even if they manage to secure higher or vocational education degrees. While those with land holdings or other capital can still aim to send their children abroad, for the rest the situation is hopeless and getting worse by the day.

The situation in the villages on the Pakistan border is even worse. “There is a paucity of good educational institutions. Worse is the health scenario as those with little or no resources grapple with diseases like cancer and kala peeliya (hepatitis C). Those with money can still get private healthcare but the others are left to fend for themselves.

“These are the reasons why the people are looking towards AAP as they have tried and tested the remaining two political forces on repeated occasions. I have been an Akali supporter throughout but this time I am tempted to try out the new entrant,” said Taranjit Singh who resides in a village close to Khemkaran in Tarn Taran.

This is an area often referred to as the graveyard of Patton tanks belonging to the Pakistan army that were destroyed by Indian forces in the 1965 war. People here rue that while the place features prominently in stories of nationalism and patriotism, successive governments have done little to address their real concerns.

Incidentally, the most talked about battle of the 2022 assembly polls is taking place in this part of Punjab, as Congress state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu takes on Bikram Singh Majithia of the Akalis in a high pitched battle in Amritsar (East). The contest has taken an interesting trajectory where Majithia who is often referred to as ‘Majhe da Jarnail’ (General of Majha) by his supporters made a head start in the war of perception. When Sidhu challenged him to an electoral duel, he accepted. Later when Sidhu asked him to forgo his traditional stronghold of Majitha as his second seat, Majithia accepted that too, and fielded his wife Ganieve Kaur from there instead. This has left Sidhu pinned down to his own campaign for most of the time.

The Citizen was witness to Majithia’s show of strength minutes before campaigning ended Friday. It was evident from conversations with the local electorate that Sidhu is facing an uphill task this time. Voters here are annoyed over his “motormouth antics” and his “overambitious” desire to be anointed chief minister of the state. Sources add that there is a large section within the Congress causing hindrance in his tracks.

Yet people acknowledge that Sidhu remains a clean politician who is genuinely concerned about Punjab. This in itself reflects the irony of Punjab and the prevailing political milieu.

“One is reminded of a pot of boiling water without a lid on it as he keeps blabbering. People are also annoyed over his absence from the constituency for the majority of the time in the last five years,” said Hardeep Singh sitting outside a shop on Batala road after the poll campaign had ended.

While Majithia and Sidhu fought a high pitched campaign, the AAP candidate Dr Jeevan Jyot Kaur connected with the electorate through a low-key but extensive campaign that saw her supporters move from door to door seeking votes. A good performance from her is also not being ruled out.