Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal scotched on Saturday rumours that he would become the face of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) campaign for the crucial Punjab elections in 2017 as he exuded confidence of repeating the party’s landslide Delhi poll victory.
In a conversation with Editor-in-Chief Sanjoy Narayan at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the AAP supremo said he had no plans of handing over the reins of the Capital to his deputy Manish Sisodia.
“These (rumours) are coming out of fear of Punjab leaders… we would have a face in Punjab and you would know about it at the right time,” Kejriwal said.
The leader didn’t rule out former Amritsar BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu joining the AAP but said no formal talks were on the anvil.
“We haven’t spoken to him yet, but if he willing to join AAP he is most welcome,” Kejriwal said.
Sidhu has been out of political action after he was refused a BJP ticket from Amristar in the 2014 general elections amid speculation that he may be looking for opportunities with other parties.
The rookie party views Punjab as the stepping stone to its pan-India ambitions, having done unexpectedly well in last year’s Lok Sabha elections there, picking up four of the 13 seats, amid a rout in other parts of the country and a depressing performance in even its stronghold of Delhi.
The party likely has a groundswell of support in Punjab but lacks a popular face who holds mass appeal across the state and could convert the popular goodwill into votes.
The Punjab elections are a dead heat with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal – BJP combine in the doldrums and the main Opposition, the Congress, hit by dissent and infighting.
A series of violent protests across the state over desecrations of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, has singed the SAD. Demonstrations have especially targeted chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for his alleged inability to rein in fringe elements.
The AAP has sensed this window of opportunity, kicking off its poll preparations early and channeling its resources towards putting in place an organizational structure.
But in recent months, the party has been hit by a string of rebellions with two of the four party MPs -- Dharamvir Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa---booted out in August over allegations of ‘hampering the prospects’ of the AAP in Punjab.
One of the most popular faces in the state, HS Phoolka, who has been fighting cases on behalf 1984 riots victims, too left the party few months back citing personal reasons.
Reacting to the Delhi CM’s remark about Sidhu, Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma said: “Sidhu is an important leader of our party. There is no such thing that he is shifting to some other party. The invitation to him by Arvind Kejriwal shows that there is a leadership crisis in the Aam Aadmi Party, particularly in Punjab, where the AAP has no credible face.”
Sidhu, a former Amritsar BJP MP, was not available for a comment. However, his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is also a chief parliamentary secretary in Punjab’s SAD-BJP government, said: “My husband (Navjot Singh Sidhu) and I are both loyal soldiers of the BJP and can’t comment in case the leader of some party (Kejriwal) invites my husband to his party.”