AAP on a strong wicket, but needs a skipper

The only ‘face’: AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is leading the campaign now in Punjab, but he has to live down the ‘outsider’ tag.   | Photo Credit: PTI

: As the campaign for the Punjab Assembly elections gains momentum ahead of the February 4 polling, the absence of a State-level mass leader is hurting the electoral prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The party has emerged as a strong contender in the Malwa region, which accounts for 69 of the 117 Assembly seats in the State, political analysts told The Hindu. “The AAP wave has certainly gained momentum in the Malwa region following aggressive campaigning, but the absence of a State-level mass leader in the party is something that could hurt its prospects,” Ashutosh Kumar, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, said.

Major challenge

For the AAP, finding a leader with a mass appeal across the State has proved to be one of the biggest challenges the party faces in the State.

Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and senior leader H.S. Phoolka are among the top local leaders but, as Mr. Kumar says, the party does not have a local “mass leader” who can pose a challenge to heavyweights like Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal and Congress State president Amarinder Singh.

A CVoter survey last April predicted a win for the AAP in Punjab had Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal been its chief ministerial face. “The AAP has been lacking a State-wide ‘face’ to steer the party. Possibly, Mr. Kejriwal realised it; hence he has been himself leading the party’s campaign in Punjab from the front, and has decided not to announce a chief ministerial candidate,” Mr. Kumar said.

Best bet

“For want of a local face, Mr. Kejriwal seems to be the best bet for the party.”

However, in a State like Punjab, where “identity politics” has deep roots, the Opposition parties — the Congress and the Akalis — have taken this as an opportunity to garner public support by evoking emotions around the “Punjabi identity” by targeting Mr. Kejriwal as an “outsider”.

The Akali Dal and the Congress have been consistently accusing Mr. Kejriwal of being anti-Punjabi.

Is it enough?

“The momentum since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has certainly toned down, and not having an established State-level leader could only work to their disadvantage,” Mohammed Khalid, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, told The Hindu.

“That Mr. Kejriwal is leading the campaign has helped the party consolidate its position, but I doubt if in a State like Punjab — which was crafted after the Punjabi Suba movement — the AAP will be able to form a government in the absence of an established State-level mass leader. Having said that, I believe the party is likely to win a few seats,” Mr. Khalid said.

He said though the AAP emerged as a key challenger after winning four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab during the 2014 elections, it received a setback after two of its MPs — Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa — raised their voice against Mr. Kejriwal’s style of working, following which they were suspended from the primary membership of the party on grounds of indiscipline. “Episodes like this have done no good for the party,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 10:42:29 AM |

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