Kejriwal’s ‘outsider image’ to fire opposition campaign in Punjab

  • Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2016 18:15 IST
File photo of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing a rally at Dhilwan in Punjab. (PTI)

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) founder Arvind Kejriwal might not have declared himself as his party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab, but his political opponents are already preparing to exploit his “outsider” image.

Founded in 2012, the AAP has emerged as a frontrunner to form the government in Punjab. And, the Delhi chief minister has big plans for the state where elections will be held early next year.

A recent survey projected the AAP winning 94-100 seats in the 117-member assembly. About 51% respondents to the HuffPost-CVoter survey, released on March 31, preferred Kejriwal as the CM over his rivals Congress’ Captain Amarinder Singh (35%) and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Badal (7%).

Sikhs account for nearly 58% of Punjab’s population and the state has not seen a non-Sikh as the chief minister in the last five decades.

Read | Dalits, Doaba, and why Kejriwal is visiting Dera Sachkhand Ballan

“Will Sikhs in Punjab accept a non-Sikh as their leader? Moreover, Kejriwal is from Haryana. That will be another liability for him in Punjab,” a senior Congress functionary said.

Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966 on linguistic basis and people of the two states have a long history of a power struggle.

Congress is working on plans to drag Kejriwal into the “CM-face” debate. Its strategists claim the AAP surge was the result of strong anti-incumbency that SAD-BJP combine is facing and the personal popularity of Kejriwal.

Read | After Punjab, Kejriwal sets eyes on Goa for 2017 assembly polls

Congress wants to de-link the two. It intends to benefit from the Akali’s anti-incumbency by crafting a campaign around Amarinder Singh. The “Coffee with Captain” – an interactive session that Singh is having with the younger generation – is one such exercise.

The Congress believes Kejriwal does not have a credible Sikh face in Punjab AAP and comedian-politician Bhagwant Mann, MP from Sangrur, will be no match to Singh.

“We will make AAP declare their leader. If it is Kejriwal, we will roll out a campaign on his outsider image. If they push Mann, we win Punjab hands down,” claimed the Congress functionary.

The ruling SAD insists the survey figures would change once Kejriwal’s Haryana origin takes the centre stage. “We rubbish such projections. We know how surveys are done,” SAD leader Naresh Gujral told HT.

Read | Five key words to define Arvind Kejriwal’s Punjab tour

Another leader from his party said it was unlikely that a “non-Sikh” can become the chief minister of Punjab.

The two parties are, however, worried at the prospects of former Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu joining the AAP.

The cricketer-politician has been in talks with the AAP for some time now and her legislator wife has already dropped hints that the power couple was looking for options.

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