Can AAP stage a comeback in Punjab ? (DEBATE)
When AAP’s newly appointed Punjab affairs in-charge, Jarnail Singh, along with other leaders walked the parikarma of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, early in March, there was a bounce in their steps and much display of hope for the assembly polls due in 2022. The appointment of the young Sikh, who represents Tilak Nagar in the Delhi Assembly, came alongside internal discussions on how to avoid the mistakes that pushed AAP to No. 2 in Punjab despite a groundswell of support ahead of the 2017 assembly elections. “We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” says Singh. “We became the principal opposition party in the last elections, and are confident of a better show in 2022.”
A close confidant of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Singh is now making regular trips to Punjab. “I spoke to people in the ruling Congress who are unhappy with the way their government is functioning,” says Singh. “Like people of Delhi, in Punjab, too, they want affordable health facilities, cheap power and quality education. Our party has in mind the needs of farmers, students and all other sections of society.”
Ahead of the 2017 polls, Kejriwal had led AAP’s Punjab campaign from the front, holding rallies across the state. The party predicted winning 100-plus seats in the 117-member assembly, but ended up with just 20. Later, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who had taken over from H.S. Phoolka as leader of opposition, was removed from the post following allegations of bribery. First-time MLA Harpal Singh Cheema, was appointed in Khaira’s place. Before the state polls of 2017 Sucha Singh Chottepur was removed as state convener and after the electoral debacle Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak who were at the helm before were shunted out of the state when they were blamed for spoiling party’s show in the state. Non resident Indians (NRIs) from Punjab who supported the AAP’ cause in state felt disheartened and currently all overseas unit are dysfunctional.
Though the Punjab unit appears more stable now, it needs a strong organisational structure to take on the well-entrenched Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP.
“Things are changing for our party, and the results will be visible soon,” says Cheema. Things seem to have changed for AAP’s state unit president, Bhagwant Mann, too. At a recent press conference, Mann announced he would welcome Navjot Sidhu into the party, though he had opposed the cricketer-turned-politician’s entry before the 2017 polls. “I have made him (Sidhu) an offer, but there has been no formal meeting so far,” the second-time MP from Sangrur told media. Sidhu, who resigned from the state cabinet last year, met Sonia Gandhi this February, and said he was given a patient hearing.
Meanwhile, AAP’s Punjab core committee chairman Budh Ram, a first-time MLA from Budhlada, has said AAP will announce its CM candidate by August 2021, realising perhaps that not doing so before the 2017 polls cost it many seats. Do you feel AAP can come back? Dissect it.