Two months after forming his own voluntary coordination committee (VCC) “dedicated to the people of Punjab”, former state convener of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Sumail Sidhu has stirred up the Khadoor Sahib bypoll scene by announcing his candidature, making it a likely triangular contest.
With AAP’s absence from the bypoll scene emerging as an immediate shot in the arm for Sumail to fill up the gap to harness a possible anti-incumbency vote bank, party MP Dharamvira Gandhi has extended him “wholehearted support”. “The AAP should have fought this byelection, and if Sumail is taking up the challenge, I will wholeheartedly support him with all my capacity and resources,” Gandhi told the Hindustan Times.
Reacting sharply to the AAP’s decision not to contest the Khadoor Sahib assembly seat, Gandhi said, “A party claiming to sweep the state assembly elections should contest the bypoll. Sumail is an honest, secular and democratic leader, having Punjab’s pain in his heart.”
Sumail, when contacted, said he had not discussed the issue with Gandhi or any other AAP dissident leader in the state. “This is an opportunity to go in for alternative politics. The AAP has betrayed the people of the state once again as it did not contest the municipal elections held earlier this year, besides skipping the Dhuri byelection,” Sumail said.
He said the move to contest the poll be regarded as “an independent decision” of the VCC, which is a “well-structured organisation dedicated to the people of Punjab” with veteran leftist Master Kheta Singh and social activist Deepak Thakur among its leading members.
Sumail faces a tough challenge from Akali MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura’s legacy and a strong Congress factor as party MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki had resigned leading to the bypoll. Both the Congress and SAD are yet to announce their candidates.
He would be cashing in on his past as a die-hard campaigner for Bhai Baldeep Singh in the 2014 parliamentary polls, as the latter was AAP’s candidate for the Khadoor Sahib seat then.
Sumail, along with dissident MPs Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, was instrumental in organising a congregation parallel to the AAP’s rally at Baba Bakala on August 29. It was followed by the suspension of Gandhi and Khalsa from the party.
Sumail, as an AAP leader in the past, had aggressively campaigned in Delhi assembly elections in February, especially for MLA Pankaj Pushkar in Timarpur constituency, and coordinating the AAP’s Punjab cadres who had landed in the national capital.
He, however, parted ways with AAP when Yogendra Yadav and other senior dissident leaders were ousted from the party following the Delhi results.
A doctorate on the topic ‘Contesting Visions of Sikh Identity’ from Jawaharlal University, Sumail has been a keen history student and was a student leader with leftist ideology at the JNU from 1996 to 2006.