With just four months to go for Punjab assembly polls, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is struggling to project its CM face amid shrinking choices.
Party’s top leadership recently announced that it would only have a “Punjabi” as the CM candidate after Akali Dal and Congress made the “Punjabi versus outsider” tirade the rallying point of their campaigns.
Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal alleged that AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal had a “secret desire” to be the Punjab CM. SAD’s election campaign too has a new tagline “Punjab punjabian da” (Punjab is for Punjabis).
The “Punjabi versus outsider” percept has hit the AAP the most in recent months. The sacking of its state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur was projected as AAP’s Delhi team giving him a raw deal. While Chhotepur has made the most out of labelling the AAP a party of outsiders, the coalescing fourth front has carried the debate forward.
Sensing the damage, the AAP was quick to clarify from the Chhapar Mela stage in Ludhiana that AAP’s CM candidate will be from Punjab. While this has taken the sting out of the opposition’s attack, the party is now faced with the question: Who should be the CM candidate?
Senior party leaders agree that the AAP does not have a Punjabi leader of the stature of the CM candidates of the Congress and the SAD. State Congress in-charge Asha Kumari has made it clear that former CM Captain Amarinder Singh will lead the state again in case of victory. The SAD has also announced that Parkash Singh Badal will contest to be the CM again. “Kejriwal would have been a very good choice for the CM face. But an outsider is not acceptable to Punjab and that would also mean Kejriwal’s leaving New Delhi again,” said a senior AAP leader.
The AAP now has two obvious choices: Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and advocate and Dakha candidate HS Phoolka. Both are Jat Sikhs, sons of the soil and are well-known AAP faces. The choice between Mann and Phoolka, however, is not easy. Phoolka, the more mature and serious of the two candidates, is not considered to be leader with a mass base. His appeal is limited to the urbane, educated audience who appreciate his contribution to the cause of 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims.
Mann, on the other hand, has unquestionable mass appeal. But a host of personality angularities has landed him in one controversy to another. His alleged drinking habit has embarrassed the party on several occasions. Instances of his “immature” filming of Parliament, his uncontrolled outburst against the media during a rally ended up negating the mileage he brings to the party through his runaway success rallies.
As an MP, now for two years, Mann has comparatively more political experience than Phoolka.
Other than these two, names of AAP Punjab convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi, Delhi MLA and Jarnail Singh and Kanwar Sandhu, are also doing the rounds.