Vetting candidates, ‘communal harmony’ card, Sikh CM face: AAP looks to play its cards right for 2022

THE AAM Aadmi Party (AAP) is approaching the 2022 Assembly polls in Punjab with a multi-pronged strategy which includes picking candidates after diligent vetting of their popularity, placing the party as a votary of communal harmony, and taking advantage of its experience as the principal opposition party in Vidhan Sabha.

It is therefore no surprise that the national convenor of AAP and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal arrived in Amritsar Monday, just a few months after his last visit in March. His announcement that Punjab will have a “Sikh CM” is significant as it undoes the perception which prevailed in the 2017 Assembly polls that either he or some other leader from Delhi will be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Punjab.

It is also significant that Kejriwal refrained from criticising miffed Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu in his remarks Monday. Within AAP, there is considerable interest in the manner in which the Sidhu-Amarinder saga is unfolding in Punjab Congress and what it’s fallout will be.

AAP has scored a significant political goal in the run-up to Assembly polls by inducting former IPS officer Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh in the party in the presence of Kejriwal.

Singh was one of the members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up to probe the police firing cases that followed the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, in 2015, when the SAD-BJP alliance was in power. A vocal critic of the Badal family for their alleged role in the events of 2015, he is expected to provide vital ammunition to AAP to take on the SAD, BJP and Congress, especially since the issue of desecration is a hot political topic in the state.

Given the volatile political situation in the state with farmers’ protests against Centre’s agriculture laws in full flow and the virtual revolt against Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh in Congress led by Navjot Singh Sidhu, it is not a surprise that the co-incharge of AAP in Punjab and Delhi MLA, Raghav Chadha, has made the state his home for over a week now and plans to stay put and lead the organisational efforts for 2022 polls.

“In 2017, AAP was beginning its journey in Punjab. We are wiser, more mature, now we understand much better the dirty politics and the politics of collusion that both the Akalis and the Congress play,” said Chadha.

The AAP leader further said that compared to 2017, the party is doing “deep analysis” on each and very potential candidate for the 117 Assembly seats to ensure it chooses only winning names. “We are going through every name with a fine tooth comb. The actual process of selection will start later but the preliminary vetting is already on. We are going to ensure we make our MLAs sit on the treasury benches in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in 2022,” said a leader involved in the process.

After having seen disintegration of the party cadre soon after the 2017 Assembly polls due to infighting and outright rebellion, AAP has also been striving to put down a strong organisational structure on ground. “A very strong party structure has been set up in the past few months and it is not limited to state, district and halka in-charges. I can pick up any village and say that I have a robust organisation there with 100 members, 80 active workers etc. From an organisational standpoint we are now at a position to outdo and outmatch any political party in Punjab,” said Chadha.

A key focus area for AAP this time around is to cement its image as the prime promoters of communal harmony in the state. In 2017, the party had acquired an image of hobnobbing with radical Sikh elements and this had reportedly had a negative effect on the Hindu voters as well as moderate Sikhs.

The party has been making inroads into the dissatisfied BJP leadership in the state and Arvind Kejriwal has publicly met firebrand former BJP minister from Amritsar, Lakshmi Kanta Chawla, in his March visit. On Monday too, he was seen touching her feet and seeking her blessings.

“As somebody who has been a founding member of the party and an integral part of it from prior to when it was formed, I can tell you that AAP stands for prosperity, peace and harmony. It will forever be our endeavour to promoted brotherhood, peace and communal harmony in the country and Punjab,” Chadha said. Sources within AAP, however, say that the party is actively looking for more Hindu leaders to induct and this includes some “low hanging fruits” from the ruling Congress.

The ongoing farmers’ protest is another arena from where AAP expects to make significant gains. With the Akalis on the backfoot in Punjab due to their initial support to the three bills and Congress being in disarray due to infighting, AAP has been projecting itself as the real supporters of the farmers’ cause.

“I do not look at farmers agitation from a political prism. This is a clean agitation away from politics. But because the decision-makers are members of political parties, politics does creep in. The way I look at it is that all three parties — BJP, Akalis and Congress — stand thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the Indian farmer. The only party which has supported farmers is AAP, whether by protests on the streets, tearing of bills in Assembly by Arvind Kejriwal or by disruption of the session of Rajya Sabha when the bill was being passed undermining parliamentary practices. We have also helped farmers in whatever way we could at the Delhi borders with langar, water etc as ‘nishkaam sewa’,” said Chadha.

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