'Bhagwant Mann' Ki Baat: The Reasons Behind AAP's CM-Face Dilemma in Punjab
Bhagwant Mann is popular in rural Malwa but he isn't adding to AAP's already existing voter base in Punjab.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to be caught in a dilemma on whether or not it should declare its Punjab unit president Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial candidate in the state. The dilemma could also be one of timing – that if Mann has to be declared, when should the party make this announcement.
Mann's supporters have been demanding that his candidature as the party's CM face be announced immediately so that there is clarity. This demand has been brewing for the past few weeks now.
Mann broke his silence on the matter for the first time on Monday, 6 September.
"This is our party's internal matter. They (workers) are just raising people's demand. However, we'll stand by party's decision," the Sangrur MP said.
The anxiety among Mann's supporters may also have stemmed from reports that the party was considering a 'non-political' CM candidate and had approached Dubai based businessman SPS Oberoi.
This article will look at three aspects:
Why Bhagwant Mann has a strong case
Why is the AAP reluctant?
What is the ground reality?
6 REASONS WHY BHAGWANT MANN HAS A STRONG CASE
Besides being head of the AAP's Punjab unit, Mann is also its most prominent face in the state. He doesn't have any significant competitors. Leader of Opposition in the state Harpal Cheema is an important face as well but doesn't have the kind of popularity among cadres that Mann enjoys. AAP is reported to have approached Dubai based businessman SPS Oberoi to be its face but he is said to have declined.
Mann was the only AAP leader to win in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the party was defeated elsewhere in Punjab and wiped out in Delhi despite being in power in the state.
Another crucial aspect is that Mann has been firmly loyal to the party and to its convener Arvind Kejriwal through all the ups and downs in the Punjab unit. Remember this is a party unit that has seen the exits of several top leaders like former MPs Dharamvir Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa, former Punjab unit chiefs Sucha Singh Chhotepur and Gurpreet 'Ghuggi' Waraich and former leaders of Opposition in the state Assembly HS Phoolka and Sukhpal Khaira.
Mann also has reasonably clean image and is seen as outside the political elite which has become increasingly popular.
He has a strong base in the politically crucial Malwa region, especially among rural voters.
He is a good speaker and uses poetry and satire very effectively to make his point.
WHY AAP IS RELUCTANT TO PROJECT MANN AS OF NOW
There's a section within AAP which believes that the party is gaining ground in Punjab on its own right now and naming Mann would bring unnecessary focus on him, instead of the party.
The party is wary of making the election a personality contest between Bhagwant Mann, SAD's Sukhbir Badal and whoever the Congress chooses between Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
There are also fears that announcing Mann as the CM candidate may spark ridicule and personal attacks on him, especially as he would be up against more entrenched leaders like Captain and Sukhbir Badal.
One section of the Punjab unit that is pushing for Mann also fears that the AAP's central leadership doesn't want to concede too much autonomy to Punjab leaders. This has been a constant charge leveled by several other leaders who fell out with AAP in the past.
WHAT'S THE GROUND REALITY?
Two recent surveys have presented contrasting pictures regarding Bhagwant Mann's appeal. According to CVoter's survey, 16 percent respondents in Punjab picked Mann as the CM of their choice, behind Arvind Kejriwal at 21.6 percent, Sukhbir Badal at 18.8 and Captain Amarinder Singh at 17.9.
The Jan ki Baat survey said that only 6 percent picked Mann as their CM choice and he was a distant fourth behind Captain at 19 percent, Sukhbir Badal at 17 percent and Navjot Sidhu at 14 percent. Kejriwal doesn't seem to have been an option in this survey.
The two surveys may have encouraged those in AAP arguing that the party should wait for some more time before declaring their CM candidate. They say that Kejriwal's popularity shows that support is for the party and the Delhi model and not dependent on a CM candidate.
The ground reality is a bit more complex. There is a strong sentiment in the public that AAP should declare as CM candidate soon.
"We don't know who their face is, how can we decide?" is a common refrain from voters.
Many voters also say that Sidhu should have joined AAP instead of remaining in the Congress.
The other fear is a repeat of 2017 in which AAP's ambiguity regarding CM face gave rise to rumours that Kejriwal himself may be eyeing the job. It's not as if Kejriwal is disliked in Punjab but the suggestion of having an outsider as CM put off many voters.
Careful to avoid that mistake, Kejriwal announced well in advance that AAP's CM will be a "Sikh from Punjab". However unless the AAP declares a candidate, this ambiguity may be harmful for it.
Mann is the front runner as of now. He has very strong support in rural Malwa, where agrarian unrest is the most intense as is the support for AAP.
Many voters there do say that not declaring Mann will harm AAP in the region.
TWO THREATS FOR AAP
There are two threats AAP faces if it doesn't declare a CM candidate soon.
If the Congress addresses its leadership issue and projects someone other than Captain, the 'change' vote that is driving AAP's rise in Punjab, may get contained.
The resentment against Captain is pulling the Congress down and replacing him with Sidhu or someone else could halt this downward slide.
The second is that AAP's failure to declare a CM candidate may enable Sukhbir Badal to emerge as the main Opposition face, despite the negativity against SAD. As things stand today, SAD is the only party that isn't facing a leadership question.
On the other hand, outside of Malwa, Mann's appeal isn't that positive. Especially among urban Hindu voters, his appeal is very low.
Even in rural parts of Majha and Doaba, many don't consider Mann "CM material".
Only consolation for him in these regions is that he doesn't evoke the kind of negative reactions that Captain and Badal often do.
"We've tried Captain and Badals, how badly can he (Mann) do?" is a reasonably common sentiment.
But it's also true that projecting Mann may not add any significant value to AAP outside of Malwa. Ideally,
In the past, AAP understood its dependence on Malwa and therefore it made it a point to nominate leaders from outside the region to key positions: state unit chiefs Sucha Singh Chhotepur and Gurpreet Ghuggi were both from Majha while former Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira was from the Doaba region.
Ideally, AAP would like to project a face who is able to add to the party's base and not just consolidate it, as Mann would. But no such face has come up so far.
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