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A Lost Plot: Sidhu Backswing Unsettles AAP Hopes in Punjab

Sidhu’s new Front has the potential of posing a serious threat to the other contenders for power in the state.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Navjot Singh Sidhu formed a new party for the Punjab 2017 elections on Friday. (Photo: Liju Joseph/<b> The Quint</b>)

Till a few months ago, Congress appeared to be losing ground in Punjab and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gaining strength with an early start off the blocks. The situation seems to have reversed now with AAP getting into a self- destructive mode and hurtling from one crisis to another.

The latest political upheaval, caused by Navjot Singh Sidhu joining hands with some other leaders and announcing formation of a Front, has the potential of posing a serious threat to the other contenders for power in the state.

The popular perception was that the cricketer-turned-politician, who enjoys a clean reputation and had resigned from Rajya Sabha, would be a formidable face for the AAP looking for a Sikh leader to lead it in the state.

A poster of ‘Awaaz-e-Punjab’, Sindhu’s new party. (Photo: ANI)
A poster of ‘Awaaz-e-Punjab’, Sindhu’s new party. (Photo: ANI)

What This Means for AAP

The hopes were dashed with a tweet from the party supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal earlier this month which said “....My respect for him wud continue whether he joins or not” (sic). It clearly implied that the Sidhu’s demands for projection as the chief ministerial candidate, and a ticket for his wife had not been accepted, and that his joining the AAP would depend on doing so unconditionally.

The emergence of AAP on the political scenario of Punjab, from where it got all its four Lok Sabha members, was significant because the traditional rivals, Congress and SAD-BJP, had been swapping the seat of power since the Reorganisation of States in 1966.

AAP in its first outing in Punjab in 2014 Lok Sabha elections had bagged 24.4 percent vote share with the ruling SAD at 26.3 percent and its electoral ally BJP with 8.7 percent of votes even as the Modi wave was sweeping the country. The Congress with 33.1 percent votes could manage only three seats. SAD and AAP bagged four seats each while the BJP got the remaining two.

In all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, AAP candidates got votes ranging from 82,600 to over 5.33 lakh. AAP candidates were ahead in 34 of the 117 Assembly segments. This had given the confidence to the AAP to stake a claim to power in the ensuing Assembly elections in the state.

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This vote share and influence is now likely to face a split with Navjot and four sitting MLAs initially joining hands.

These include his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu (BJP), Pargat Singh (SAD), and independents Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Singh Bains who have considerable influence in Ludhiana. It is expected that those disgruntled with other political parties may join hands with the new Forum which is likely to be converted into a political party. Navjot Kaur has already announced that the new outfit would contest all 117 Assembly constituencies.

This would make it a four cornered contest and if Sidhu is able to get support from more popular leaders, the new outfit has the potential to change the gameplan for the Assembly elections in which the Congress and SAD-BJP had been maintaining hegemony with considerable committed vote bank. Sidhu’s outfit, if nothing else, the potential to emerge as a King maker.
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AAP in Punjab: A Party Controlled By Outsiders

Navjot Singh Sidhu. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/sherryontopp">@sherryontop</a>)
Navjot Singh Sidhu. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@sherryontop)

Significantly, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, the Punjab Convenor of AAP who was recently sacked by the party for allegedly accepting money, has extended his support to the new outfit. He has a considerable following since he was instrumental in building up the party over the last two years.

The biggest negative against the AAP in Punjab was the perception that it was the party controlled by ‘outsiders’. The party has been going through a series of crisis starting with two of its four MPs rebelling and expulsion of several respected leaders like the famous eye surgeon Dr Daljeet Singh. Of the 13 AAP candidates who had contested the Lok Sabha elections, nine have either rebelled or have been expelled by the party.

The developments in the state unit of AAP would surely be music to the ears of Punjab Congress leaders whose campaign was just not picking up. The party had been delaying declaring its chief ministerial candidate even though Capt Amarinder Singh is considered the de facto candidate. The internecine war within the party had ebbed on the surface but tensions continue to simmer.

The biggest negative against the AAP in Punjab was the perception that it was the party controlled by ‘outsiders’. The party has been going through a series of crisis starting with two of its four MPs rebelling and expulsion of several respected leaders like the famous eye surgeon Dr Daljeet Singh. Of the 13 AAP candidates who had contested the Lok Sabha elections, nine have either rebelled or have been expelled by the party.
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh at the launch of ‘Halke Vich Captain’. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)&nbsp;
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh at the launch of ‘Halke Vich Captain’. (Photo: The Quint
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The developments in the state unit of AAP would surely be music to the ears of Punjab Congress leaders whose campaign was just not picking up. The party had been delaying declaring its chief ministerial candidate even though Captain Amarinder Singh is considered the de facto candidate. The internecine war within the party had ebbed on the surface but tensions continue to simmer.

Congress, whose fortunes are being guided by well known poll strategist Prashant Kishor, would now hope for a division of votes for AAP which would directly benefit the party. Looking back, the party’s calculation that AAP’s campaign would peak much before the elections, may prove correct given the crisis now engulfing the new party.

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AAP’s Need to Rethink its Strategy

Congress did commit some blunders like nominating former minister Kamalnath, whose name evokes memories of 1984 killings, as in-charge of party’s campaign. Though he withdrew himself after strong reaction in the state, it was a step that should have been avoided.

However, the popularity and credibility of Capt Amarinder Singh remains intact and an indication of the prospects it enjoys is the record number of applications (over 1600) it has received from prospective candidates for the 117 Assembly constituencies.

One of its biggest challenges would be to mollify those who would be denied party tickets. A good news for the party is that most of its top leaders, including former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, have buried the hatchet at least for the time being.

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Prashant Kishor and his team have also launched several programmes like ‘Punjab da Captain’ and ‘Halke wich Captain’. Amarinder regularly interacts with students and other sections of society like farmers and traders. However, the party was facing a serious challenge from a unified and strong AAP which, much to its delight, is now relentlessly hurting itself.

The ruling SAD-BJP coalition partners would also be feeling relieved with the developments in AAP and the possibility of a further split in votes with a fourth front taking shape.

Both the Congress and the coalition partners shall have to realign their strategies in that eventuality. Though elections are still five months away, AAP appears to be losing the plot and may have to re-look at its strategy if it hopes to be in the race for power.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Chandigarh. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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