New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s elusive search for a Sikh chief ministerial face for Punjab for the last five years was a key factor in the party losing the last assembly elections in the state and is now its biggest challenge for a revival in Punjab where it had emerged as the main opposition party.
The party needs a game-changer to revive itself in Punjab and make a mark. AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal in Amritsar on Monday said a Sikh will be the party’s CM face in Punjab and the party will declare the name at the right time. The AAP seems to be learning from its mistake from the last elections. Then, in 2017, AAP did not declare its CM face despite Punjab’s political culture of voting for personalities like Prakash Singh Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh who have been the declared CM faces of their respective parties. Kejriwal then said having a CM face “was not important” as the people of Punjab trust his party.
The AAP, however, did say the CM will ultimately be a face from Punjab and not Kejriwal. The Delhi CM himself had termed himself being a CM face as a “rumour”. The real reason for AAP shying away then from naming a CM face was multiple faces in the party seen as contenders, including Sangrur MP Bhagwant Singh Mann, whose image was seen as an inhibiting factor by the party in declaring him as one. The other contenders were HS Phoolka and Sukhpail Singh Khaira.
AAP’s Choices This Time
The situation is not much different this time as the party seeks a prominent Jat Sikh face. One such face of the party, MLA Sukhpail Singh Khaira, has left the party and joined the Congress. Phoolka had quit the party in 2019. Bhagwant Mann remains the party chief in Punjab and party’s sole MP from the state, but despite his popularity, many in the party consider it a gamble to pitch him as the CM face. MLA Harpal Cheema, the AAP Leader in the assembly, and former MP Professor Sadhu Singh are other faces that AAP has in its ranks here.
However, the big game-changer for AAP could be someone like Navjot Singh Sidhu who seems on a complete collision course inside his party, the Congress. Kejriwal had confirmed in 2017 that Navjot Singh Sidhu had extensive talks with AAP then and a lot of efforts were made to bring him but it ended as a closed chapter. Sidhu joined the Congress where he is in a war of words with his own CM. The AAP has not revealed yet if it has opened the channel of communication with Sidhu again.
Kejriwal on Monday said he respected Sidhu and would not indulge in any loose talk around the speculation around him. In 2017, Kejriwal had made it clear that Sidhu never asked AAP to declare him as their CM face. The AAP, however, knows Punjab is its best chance to make a mark outside Delhi and it had only itself to blame in the 2017 elections by not declaring a CM face and hobnobbing with radical elements that cost it the election despite momentum on the ground.
The AAP has been on a downward spiral in Punjab since with its present faces in the state, and the Congress has termed it as a party which only loses its deposit whenever it contests an election in Punjab. Sidhu has been on the forefront of attacking the Badals and his own party alike for non-action on the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015, an issue that AAP has also taken up in a big way as a poll plank. The party on Monday inducted the former SIT head who had probed these sensitive cases and later resigned from service, Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh.
The AAP bringing Sidhu on board may be the game-changer it needs.