The fourth front in Punjab’s politics is all set to acquire a larger profile with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rebel Sucha Singh Chhotepur confirming his intent to join forces with the Navjot Singh Sidhu-led Awaaz-e-Punjab.
Chotepur hasn’t yet met Sidhu or the Bains brothers -Simranjit and Balwinder. But he has had preliminary discussions with former India Hockey captain Pargat Singh, the fourth founding-member of the Awaaz forum that’ll constitute the kernel of the new party.
“I’ve had one meeting with Pargat. Something positive will emerge in a week from now,” Chhotepur told Hindustan Times after a workers’ meeting at Khadoor Sahib on Thursday evening. The hockey star-turned-politician was as optimistic about the proposed tie up in an interview to this newspaper.
From being the face of AAP in the state where he laid the party’s socio-political foundation, Chhotepur now is a trenchant critic of Arvind Kejriwal. He accuses the Delhi CM desirous of wresting power in Punjab of abandoning the principles that made people gravitate towards his party.
Chhotepur’s controversial exit has split AAP down the middle, weaning away its activists in several districts of Majha and Doab regions. There’s scepticism even among sections of young voters, the party’s vocal supporters in Malwa that returned four AAP MPs to the Lok Sabha in 2014.
As of now, the Awaaz forum is a conglomeration of charismatic faces with a track record in popular politics. Lesser known nationally than Sidhu and Pargat, the Bains brothers are well entrenched in Ludhiana, a Malwa town, from where they get elected as independent legislators. What binds them together is their antipathy for the ruling Akali-BJP coalition which is also the main plank of Kejriwal.
Chhotepur is expected to poach from AAP and transfer to Awaaz what it direly needs --an organisational base. In his recent tour of the state, the former AAP convener has drawn crowds of disillusioned workers in different parts of Punjab: Amritsar, Fazilka, Patiala, Hoshiarpur, Khadoor Sahab, Faridkot and his home base of Gurdaspur.
“The dreams we had shown to the people of a corruption free, equitable polity have been betrayed by Kejriwal who distrusts Punjabis and runs the show with outsiders,” alleged Chhotepur. Having worked hard to persuade the people to hold the “broom” for a clean polity, he was now asking them to give it up as it has come to symbolise betrayal: “I’m telling them that a fraud has been played on us by a man who thinks he holds the patent to honesty.”
Chhotepur claimed the AAP “split” on the ground, over his humiliation has left Kejriwal disoriented. His worries were evident from the emotional issues he’s raising: “Why’s he promising to declare Amritsar a holy city now? He has been coming here for two years but never talked of it before.”
He also made light of the AAP leader’s threat to jail the Badals if elected to power, terming it as a lame bid to benefit from popular outrage against their misrule. Hadn’t he similarly threatened Sheila Dikshit? Chhotepur asked. “Kejriwal shouldn’t look towards Punjab. He better stay in Delhi and fulfil his promises there. We’d decide whether, or when to arrest the Badals...”
Chhotepur’s game plan was clear from his comments: Showing Kejriwal as one who can’t be trusted for his words; an outsider with an agenda to oust Punjabis in their own state by co-opting people he had promised to purge to build a new Punjab.
It will be interesting to watch who’s heard better in the border state’s crowded electoral marathon. For now, the fight is shaping up to be quadrangular - including the Akali-BJP, the Congress and AAP. The contest may even become five-cornered if the BSP regains traction with its Dalit base. Punjab, after all, is the state where the party was conceived in 1981 by Mayawati’s mentor, Kanshi Ram.