Battle for 2022 Punjab polls: In a bind over CM face, AAP fancies a chance in rivals’ woes
Down in the dumps for nearly two years due to internal conflicts, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab is now sniffing an opportunity in growing fissures in the state unit of the ruling Congress.
The AAP, which has made no secret of its keenness to fish in troubled waters, is not just going all-out to take advantage of the state of flux in the Congress, but is also expecting to see some discontented leaders jump the ship to join its ranks. The common thread running through its campaign slogans and speeches of leaders is, “You have seen the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), now give us a chance”.
The party, which constantly reminded people of the promises the ruling party failed to keep, is getting some of its ammunition from newly appointed Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu and other Amarinder-baiters who are hitting out at their own government over the sacrilege and subsequent police firing cases, failure to arrest of “big fish” behind drug rackets, and the power purchase agreements (PPAs) and high electricity rates.
Delhi model, populist pitch
Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan says the Akalis had exposed themselves totally during their 10-year-long rule and the Congress failed to deliver on its promises. “There is public anger against them. We are asking people to look at our work in Delhi and give us a chance. The response has been good so far as many of them have visited the farmers’ protest sites (on the Delhi-Haryana border) and seen the work done by our government there,” he adds.
Besides hoping to tap into this resentment, the AAP, which won 20 seats to become the principal opposition party in 2017, is banking on its much-touted ‘Delhi model’ of governance and promise of freebies to emerge on top.
Party national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has already made a populist pitch by “guaranteeing” 300 units of free power for residential consumers, waiver of pending bills and round-the-clock supply if his party comes to power in the state. “This is just the beginning. Kejriwal ji will be in Punjab again very soon with more announcements,” says a party office-bearer.
Pressure builds up to name CM candidate
The biggest question before the AAP remains its chief ministerial face even as pressure is building on the leadership from within the party, including several MLAs and workers, to declare state chief Bhagwant Mann’s name.
Kejriwal had, on June 21, announced in Amritsar that the CM candidate will be from the Sikh community. As reports of AAP leaders sending feelers to prominent Sikh personalities started doing the rounds, the two-time Sangrur MP, who remains the party’s most popular leader in Punjab, appeared to run out of patience. “The party should know the ground reality and listen to volunteers before declaring the CM face. A large proportion of them see me as CM candidate,” he told reporters on Saturday, pointing to party workers who are visiting his residence for the ‘volunteer meet programme’ in droves.
As the party distanced itself from such feelers, and several leaders, including Punjab affairs in-charge Jarnail Singh, got in touch with him, Mann postponed his volunteer meet from Wednesday and has gone to Delhi. “The party leadership knows how we suffered in 2017 by not naming the CM face. Kejriwal ji will be back in Delhi from his vipassana session and sort out everything. There is nothing to worry,” says a party MLA who is backing Mann, playing down his remarks.
But not many seem to agree. Party watchers see these developments as a sign of fresh trouble brewing. The party had remained in disarray for much of the past four years due to internal strife and can ill afford another row with just a few months to go for polls, they say.