With a little over four months to go for the Punjab assembly polls, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is struggling to project a chief ministerial face amid shrinking choices.
The party’s top leadership recently announced that it would only have a “Punjabi” as CM candidate after the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress made the ‘Punjabi vs outsider’ tirade the rallying point of their election campaigns.
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal even alleged that the party’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal had a “secret desire” to be Punjab CM. SAD’s election campaign too has a new tag line “Punjab punjabian da” (Punjab is for Punjabis).
The ‘Punjabi vs outsider’ perception has hit the AAP the most in recent months. The sacking of its 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 AAP a party of outsiders, the coalescing fourth front has carried the credo forward, making it the raison d’etre of its creation.
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 SAD. State Congress chief 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 the CM Parkash Singh Badal will contest to be the chief minister again. “Kejriwal would have been a very good choice of candidate. But an outsider is not acceptable to Punjab and that would also mean Kejriwal’s leaving New Delhi yet again,” said a senior leader.
The AAP now has two obvious choices: Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and renowned advocate and Dakha candidate, H S Phoolka. Both are Jat Sikhs, sons of the soil and are well known AAP faces. The toss-up 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 Sikhs, fighting for justice for the 1984 riot victims.
Mann, on the other hand has unquestionable mass appeal. But a host of personality angularities has landed the party in one controversy to another. His alleged “drinking habit” has embarrassed the party on several occasions. Instances of his “immature” filming of the Parliament, his uncontrolled outburst against the media during a rally end up negating the mileage he brings to the party through his runaway success rallies.
As MP, now for two years, however, Mann has comparatively more political experience than Phoolka who is a political greenhorn.
Other than these two, names of its convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi, MLA Delhi and state co-incharge Jarnail Singh and Kanwar Sandhu, the head of the party’s manifesto wing are also doing the rounds as second-rung hopefuls.