The Congress attempt to appoint “high-stature” leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath in election-bound states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab might have backfired after Nath had to make a hasty exit over his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots but a few in the party believe “convicted” Asha Kumari makes a worse-off replacement for a post earlier held by Shakeel Ahmad and Gulchain Singh Charak.
Like any rival party would, the ruling Akali-BJP alliance and new challenger Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have dubbed the controversial appointments as evidence of “lack of credible faces” in the Congress but never has the narrative for any election been decided by whom the party appoints as the state in-charge. “The role of the state in-charge is to ensure all state leaders work together for the party’s victory. Asha Kumari is the right choice, as she will foster unity and ensure coordination between the high command and the state unit. If the SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) can have convicted ministers such as Tota Singh and the AAP ministers are in news for all the wrong reasons, how can they point fingers at the Congress,” says party’s senior state vice-president Lal Singh.
According to party sources, once the idea of a woman incharge was mooted, Kumari just fit the bill. “Both state party president Captain Amarinder Singh and party strategist Prashant Kishor wanted someone who could implement the campaign strategy and complement their efforts. She has practical experience of electoral politics, being a four-time MLA, and does not equal Amarinder in stature. While a heavyweight leader such as Kamal Nath could ensure unity through his stature, she will be able to do it through her amenability. She is also younger to leaders such as Sheila Dikshit. Though a leader with similar profile and no court conviction would be ideal, there were not many options,” the sources said.
Senior Congress leader Amarjit Singh Tikka hails Kumari as a dynamic leader who can spend enough time in Punjab, as she is from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. “She also has a good a idea of Punjab politics, since she has been coin-charge in Haryana,” he adds.
‘PUBLICITY HUNGRY AAP LOSING GROUND’
Bitten twice, the party does not intend to be twice shy by asking Kumari to step down. Its internal assessment is that it stands to gain from the “negative publicity” against it and the “overkill” of the AAP in the recent months of self-publicity.
“The fact that the AAP is using public money to fund its aggressive publicity campaign has started irritating people, in both Delhi and Punjab. AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was all over — on radio, posters, billboards and newspapers in Delhi. The AAP has realised it is proving counterproductive. The ad blitzkrieg cannot cover up for the recent controversies courted by the party. In Punjab, their campaign is showing signs of fatigue as elections approach,” sources close to Kishor said.
The SAD, too, is out with publicity vans to highlight its “achievements” and counter the AAP. But the Congress is banking on neither advertisement nor aggressive socialmedia presence but outreach programmes such as ‘Halke Vich Captain’, which would see Amarinder tour all 117 assembly constituencies to create the right buzz. “The challenge is whether Amarinder is ready for the long haul and can sustain the momentum for seven months; and whether people coming to him with their grievances go back satisfied,” said one of party’s campaign managers.
However, some senior party leaders feel that like Ambika Soni, proximity to party president Sonia Gandhi is the “only qualification” that landed Asha Kumari the job. “Appointments such as this demoralise the party workers and dilute the party’s stance on corruption. How will we speak of corruption-free Punjab with convicted leaders leading our campaign,” a senior MLA said, requesting anonymity.