Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal's visit to Amritsar on Monday, 21 June, proved to be an important one in the run-up to the 2022 Assembly elections in Punjab.
There are two crucial developments which indicate that the Aam Aadmi Party is trying to rectify some of the factors that went against it in the 2017 Assembly elections:
1. While speaking to the media, Kejriwal announced categorically that Punjab will have a Sikh CM in case AAP comes to power.
“Punjab's CM will be from the Sikh community... It will be someone whom the entire Punjab feels proud of... We feel it is the Sikh community's right,” Kejriwal had said at a press conference.
In 2017, AAP hadn’t declared a chief ministerial face. In fact, AAP had left the matter ambiguous which gave rise to speculation that Kejriwal himself may be vying for the position.
The prospect of a non-Punjabi becoming CM may have hampered AAP's chances. Now, by making it clear that AAP's CM face will be a Sikh and “someone who Punjab feels proud of,” Kejriwal has addressed those concerns.
2. AAP inducted former IG Police Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh into the party. Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh had appointed him as the head of the Special Investigation Team into the Bargari sacrilege incident and the police firing at Behbal Kalan in which two people were killed during the SAD-BJP's tenure in 2015.
However, Kunwar Vijay resigned after the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected the SIT's report. His entry would help AAP corner Captain over the alleged inaction in the Bargari case.
Who Else May Join AAP?
There is speculation that more high profile names are likely to join AAP. The names doing the rounds are of senior BJP leader Laxmi Kanta Chawla and Anil Joshi, both from Amritsar.
Kejriwal had met Chawla during his last visit to Punjab earlier this year.
Both Chawla and Joshi had come out against the BJP's hostile approach towards the farmers' protest.
Interestingly SAD-Sanyukta leaders Sukhdev Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura also visited the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar on Monday, the same day as Kejriwal, sparking speculation that they may merge their Akali Dal faction with AAP. The two leaders had formed their own Akali Dal after falling out with Sukhbir Badal.
Another likely inductee could be hockey player-turned-politician Pargat Singh, presently the Congress MLA from Jalandhar Cantonment. He has been a consistent critic of Captain Amarinder within the Congress.
What Does This Mean?
Besides addressing concerns regarding the CM face, AAP seems to be trying to slightly modify its image in Punjab.
In the 2017 election, AAP had to face a great deal of propaganda that it had links with pro-Khalistan elements. The Maur Mandi blast on the eve of elections re-ignited old fears and it is said that this led to a shift of Hindu voters to the Congress.
Of course, later, Dera Sacha Sauda followers were named in connection with the blast and it turned out that pro-Khalistan elements had nothing to do with it. But the damage had already been done by then.
AAP ended up doing well only in rural Malwa, which is dominated by Jatt Sikh farmers and performed poorly in most Hindu-dominated areas. AAP seems to be trying to actively woo Hindu voters to make up for it. Inducting a senior cop like Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh also seems to be an attempt to shed the ‘pro-Khalistan’ tag of 2017.
It is clear that AAP is now trying to expand to other areas where it was traditionally weak – the Majha and Doaba regions and urban areas.
This is a very different AAP from 2017. Back then, Kejriwal was its main face but its votes mostly came from relatively poorer Jatt Sikh farmers from Malwa, especially in areas like Mansa, Sangrur and Barnala where agrarian distress was highest.
AAP may have weakened a bit in Malwa – judging by its defeat in Faridkot, Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib in the Lok Sabha elections. But it is trying to expand among urban Upper Caste Hindu voters and Dalits.
A big challenge would be to find a CM face.
AAP leadership would naturally prefer Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann. He managed to win his seat in 2019 despite all the other candidates losing and he also is a staunch Kejriwal loyalist.
But can he take along rest of the party, especially with bigwigs likely to join? Or would the party pick a lateral entrant? This should be more clear, a little closer to elections.
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