As AAP Gets More Members in Punjab, State Parties Feel the Heat
As AAP attracts members to its Punjab unit in hordes, political atmosphere in the state seems to be boiling ahead of the 2017 polls. (Photo: The Quint)
As AAP attracts members to its Punjab unit in hordes, political atmosphere in the state seems to be boiling ahead of the 2017 polls. (Photo: The Quint)

As AAP Gets More Members in Punjab, State Parties Feel the Heat

When well-known Punjabi comedian and film actor Gurpreet Ghuggi joined the Aam Aadmi Party, which is making a serious bid to wrest power in Punjab, it seemed that the party managed to stage a coup of sorts.

Ghuggi, like the party’s MP Bhagwant Mann, is extremely popular in rural Punjab and among the masses. Of late, Mann had been facing brickbats for allegedly getting too fond of the spirits Punjab is infamous for. A couple of months ago, he was forced to leave a religious gathering after he allegedly came drunk to the venue where the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib was placed.

Ghuggi enjoys a good clean image and has even made a mark in Bollywood with his latest delightful cameo in Singh is Bling. He had attained popularity after participating in the TV show, “Great Indian Laughter Challenge” and went on to act in several Punjabi films and television serials.



Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi at a rally in Dhilwan Kapurthala, 28 February 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi at a rally in Dhilwan Kapurthala, 28 February 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Stars Flocking to AAP

What made the 44-year-old Ghuggi joining the AAP all the more eventful was the fact that he had met former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who was recently made the state Congress president. There were speculations that the film actor/comedian would join the Congress along with some other Punjabi stars. He apparently changed his mind after meeting the national organisation building head of AAP, Durgesh Pathak, who had also approached him to join the party.

Ghuggi, who also enjoys the considerable support of the NRIs, is bound to attract some other Punjabi stars to join AAP. Already, members of his team and several small-time film actors from the state have either joined the party or expressed their support for him and the party.

While Bhagwant Mann had been cagey about his image as a comedian, describing comedy as a serious business, Ghuggi is making no bones about making people laugh. Soon after joining the party he said that while politicians have made people cry, “We want to make people laugh by improving their situation”.



 Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks during a public rally in Amritsar, 27 February 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks during a public rally in Amritsar, 27 February 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Snapshotclose

Membership ‘Over’Drive

  • Ahead of the 2017 Punjab polls, AAP seems to be falling for star power.
  • Not just stars, AAP seems to be attracting loyalists from other parties as well, with some turncoats making their way into the party.
  • As the party is gearing up for the assembly polls, it’s drawing flak for not doing enough background checks during its membership drive.
  • Hordes of new members, especially those lacking credentials, may not bode well for the party that has only projected Kejriwal as a face in Punjab.
  • The positive response to Kejriwal’s rallies in Punjab, however, is bound to make Congress, SAD and BJP leaders jittery.

Background Check for New Members

The party has also roped in some other well-known people – Punjab Congress general secretary and an outspoken leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former senior bureaucrat Jasbir Singh Bir and half a dozen journalists including former editor Kanwar Sandhu. Sandhu was recently in the news for interviewing dismissed police officer Parminder Singh Pinki, and for the attack on him while visiting the Patiala jail to meet Balwant Singh Rajoana, an accused in the Beant Singh assassination case. He is believed to be preparing the AAP’s manifesto for the forthcoming elections.

AAP, however, is facing criticism for not doing enough background checks before welcoming people into the party fold. Some of those inducted recently do not enjoy a good image or have hopped parties in the past. Both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress are, predictably, critical of the AAP weaning away their members.

Capt Amarinder Singh, who describes it as a party of outsiders, says that it was attracting those with leftist leanings and even those who have supported terrorism. SAD chief Sukhbir Badal dismisses the party as those of the ‘topiwallas’.



Activists of the Shiromani Akali Dal waving black flags at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during his rally at village Paaka in Fazilka, Punjab, 26 February  2016. (Photo: PTI)
Activists of the Shiromani Akali Dal waving black flags at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during his rally at village Paaka in Fazilka, Punjab, 26 February 2016. (Photo: PTI)

One-Man Party

Though the party has set up units all across the rural areas and has constituted ward-level committees, which no other party has yet done, it lacks a credible candidate for the post of Chief Minister. Kejriwal continues to be the most prominent face and when asked about the chief ministerial candidate by the media, he dismissed the questions saying, “We shall cross the bridge when we come to it”.

Yet the response that Arvind Kejriwal received at the Maghi Mela, where he attracted larger crowds than Amarinder Singh and Sukhbir, during his recent five-day visit, has been tremendous. He visited families of those killed by militants as well as families of some farmers who had recently committed suicide. The response is bound to make the Congress, SAD and BJP leaders jittery.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist.)

Also read: Punjab Elections: Tensions Between BJP and SAD Rife in the State

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