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Losing ground: Can Manish Sisodia set AAP’s house in order in Punjab?

With about a year to go for LS polls, the state unit seems to lack cohesion, direction; new party affairs in-charge must start by repairing cracks.

punjab Updated: Feb 19, 2018 09:26 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Manish Sisodia,Aam Aadmi Party,Patiala
With about a year to go for LS polls, the state unit seems to lack cohesion and direction; new party affairs in-charge must start by repairing the cracks.(HT)

Just two months ago, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders in Punjab were falling all over themselves to welcome the appointment of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia as in-charge of party affairs in the state where it is losing ground.

All of them, effusive in their praise for the soft-spoken-yet-firm central leader known for his organisational capabilities, welcomed the political affairs committee’s decision. The initial enthusiasm to the appointment appears to be fast petering out, with Sisodia — preoccupied with his duties in Delhi, where he virtually runs the AAP government and holds important portfolios — still to invest time and energy required for arresting the slide in the party’s graph in the state.

Sisodia was made the Punjab affairs in-charge on December 19, but has not held any meeting with the top brass of the state party so far. During his visit to Jalandhar recently, he held a one-on-one meeting with MLAs. “Among the senior most leaders of the party, Sisodia was given the charge after poor performance in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha byelection and the civic elections in Patiala, Jalandhar and Amritsar. The workers’ morale is down. He needs to take quick steps to try and bring the party back on track,” said a party leader, who did not wish to be named.

Sisodia could not be contacted. However, AAP state unit co-president Aman Arora said that Sisodia has already collected feedback from MLAs and others. “It is only a matter of time before he holds a party meeting,” he said.

Competing ambitions

The state unit, which did not have an observer for eight months following Sanjay Singh’s resignation after the party fell way short of its expectations in the assembly elections last year, has been lacking cohesion in the meantime, with leaders, especially those with competing ambitions, trying to outdo each other.

That Punjab unit president and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann — the party’s most popular Punjab face without a doubt — and leader of opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira — its most aggressive leader — are not the best of friends is no secret. Dakha MLA HS Phoolka, who resigned as the leader of opposition in July last year to concentrate on fighting the anti-Sikh riot cases, has also maintained a rather low profile in recent months. The party wings for farmers, labourers, women and youth were dissolved last year, but are still to be reconstituted.

Though the AAP is making considerable noise as the principal opposition party, most of it has been at press conferences or releases. On the other hand, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), pushed to the number three position in the assembly elections after its 10-year rule, has hit the streets with a ‘pol khol’ compaign against the Congress government to try and pep up its demoralised supporters.

Getting act together

With the Lok Sabha elections just about a year away, there is a feeling in a section of the party that their leaders need to get their act together in the state where it sprung a surprise in its first electoral outing during the 2014 parliamentary polls. Punjab, known for backing the underdog, is where the AAP had won all its four Lok Sabha seats – Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur and Patiala – getting 25% of the votes polled in the state. While two of the four MPs were suspended for “anti-party activities” about two years ago, four of the remaining candidates are also not in the party now.

Given its current maladies, a repeat of the 2014 showing seems like a huge challenge for the party. The AAP leadership will not only have to look for fresh candidates for most parliamentary constituencies in the state, it will also have to step in quickly to get the party leaders to bury their differences for a semblance of unity, uplift the morale of the cadre and reconnect with youth, activists, intellectuals and other similar groups that helped it find traction in the initial days to make the state unit battle ready.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 09:10 IST