The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has selected its five candidates for the Rajya Sabha seats from Punjab that will fall vacant on April 9, as the terms of current MPs Pratap Singh Bajwa, Shamsher Singh Dullo (Congress); Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Naresh Gujral (Shiromani Akali Dal); and Shwait Malik from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) end.
Elections for these seats will be held on March 31.
As the AAP has a majority in the Punjab assembly with 92 of the 117 seats, its nominees will be elected unopposed.
Rajya Sabha members have a term of six years.
The AAP’s tally in the RS has now gone up from three to eight.
THE FIVE MEMBERS
HARBHAJAN SINGH: The 41-year-old former cricketer with roots in Jalandhar is a prize catch for the AAP. The party hopes he will work in strengthening the sports infrastructure in Punjab, including building a sports university, and help in consolidating the party’s connection with the youth. Singh, a Jat Sikh, debuted in 1998 and is remembered for the 32 wickets he took in the 2001 India vs Australia test series. Singh, who is known more for his spin bowling, has played in all forms of test matches, ODIs, T20s and IPLs. Singh enjoys a good relationship with Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann.
Singh was the captain of the Indian Premier League team Mumbai Indians and captained Punjab for the 2012–13 Ranji Trophy season. Under his captaincy, Mumbai won the 2011 Champions League Twenty20.
An Arjuna awardee and Padma Shri, Singh has been working for the upliftment of disadvantaged children through the Smile Train Foundation and Tera Tera Foundation.
RAGHAV CHADHA: The 33-year-old Delhi MLA from Rajendra Nagar was appointed as the Punjab co in-charge in 2020 and has stayed put in Punjab, overseeing the rollout of the AAP’s strategy. The crucial role of Chadha, vice-chairman of Delhi Jal Board, was ably articulating the party’s position as well as puncturing the charges of the opposition. That he would have play a role in Punjab post the party’s phenomenal victory was understood given the young MLA’s visible role not just in the media, but also as a campaigner on the ground. Additionally, Chadha enjoys the trust of AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal. Chadha is the link between Delhi and Punjab and is expected to keep a watchful eye on the developments in Punjab. That Chadha is a Punjabi Hindu also works in his favour.
At 33 years, Chadha is the third youngest Rajya Sabha MP. Before him, late Nandini Satpathy and Anubhav Mohanty, both from Odisha, were elected to the Upper House at the age of 31 years and 32 years, respectively. Boxing ace Mary Kom became an MP at the age of 35, while CPIM’s Ritabrata Banerjee was an MP at the age of 34.
A loyal soldier and trusted aide of Kejriwal, Chadha was the youngest spokesperson of the party. Chadha spearheaded critical water reforms as the Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman. A graduate from the London School of Economics, Chadha met Kejriwal in 2012, who urged him to get involved in the drafting of the Delhi Lokpal Bill as his first task.
In the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections, Chadha registered an emphatic victory as the party’s candidate from Rajinder Nagar. Chadha was appointed as the chairperson of the Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee.
‘CHANAKYA’ SANDEEP PATHAK: The IIT-Delhi associate professor has been working quietly behind the scenes for years and is seen as the man who had a key role in winning Punjab for the AAP. Ironically, although Pathak is the man most talked about, he is the least written about given his quintessential role as a backroom boy and disinclination to step into the limelight. Kejriwal acknowledged Pathak’s role while addressing newly elected MLAs on March 20.
“Unhone peeth peeche reh kar ke jis tarah shandaar sangathan taiyar kia, shandaar campaign design ki, pura Punjab ka campaign sambhala, mein unko badhai deta hun.” He not only helped in crafting the strategy for Punjab, but also built the organisation and kept the difficult conversations going between Kejriwal and key stakeholders in Punjab. According to sources, Pathak enjoys the confidence of both Kejriwal and Mann.
He first caught Kejriwal’s attention, when unlike many other pre- and post-poll surveys, his survey had not given the AAP either a comfortable majority or a landslide. Pathak has also been involved in the AAP’s 2020 Delhi campaign, which meant that he worked with political strategist Prashant Kishor and picked up a few more skills to fight and win an election. Pathak’s role has been so decisive that sources within the party are unanimous in their opinion that he deserved the Rajya Sabha seat.
All eyes will be on Pathak as he transitions from a backroom person to the voice of the party in the Rajya Sabha. Pathak got a PhD degree from the prestigious Cambridge University in 2011 and hails from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. He has already resigned from his position as an associate professor in IIT-Delhi and is looking at working closely in Gujarat.
ASHOK MITTAL: He is the chancellor and owner of Lovely Professional University, which was established in 2001 in Phagwara and within a short span, went on to become one of the largest private universities in the country that draws in students from across the world.
Mittal, a law graduate, is the son of the late Baldev Raj Mittal, who laid the foundation of what has gone on to become a successful and thriving business empire in Punjab. The success story of this family is remarkable, considering the humble beginnings of one sweet shop in Jalandhar in 1961. Today, the business has expanded with interests in auto dealership and education.
For the AAP, education is at the very core of its political agenda, which has huge resonance among people. Kejriwal has repeatedly spoken about how the AAP will fulfil Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of making excellent education accessible to all, particularly the poor. Mittal will play a key role in achieving this goal.
SANJEEV ARORA: Industrialist Sanjeev Arora is the fifth Rajya Sabha candidate of the AAP. Arora, a Ludhiana-based industrialist, runs the ‘Krishna Pran Breast Cancer Charitable Trust’ and has been involved in charitable work for 15 years. Arora started the trust for breast cancer after he lost both his parents to cancer.
The trust has been serving the people of Punjab for over 15 years, and more than 160 cancer patients have been treated for free. Arora is also on the governing board of Dayanand Medical College & Hospital, Ludhiana, and is also a member of the Apex Council of Punjab Cricket Association. Arora has been the secretary of Sutlej Club, Ludhiana, a prime institution of Punjab that provided ample help to the Ludhiana District Administration by donating ambulances, PPE kits, and other essentials.