Punjab elections: AAP turmoil, non-starter 4th front add to uncertainty

By Jaideep Sarin

Chandigarh : What was expected to be an interesting election in Punjab with triangular contests for the first time for most assembly seats is turning out to be a politically uncertain one with the way things have changed in the past one month.

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First, there was the turmoil within the AAP Punjab unit and second was the idea of a fourth front, announced with much fanfare by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and others, which later became a non-starter.

Making the contest triangular was the newest challenger on Punjab’s electoral scene — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The way its political fortunes were shaping up in the past over one year, it was being speculated that the party was also set to challenge the two major traditional players in Punjab — the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and the Congress.

However, the way the AAP virtually imploded in the past one month has revived the fortunes of the Akali Dal-BJP alliance as well as the Congress. Their leaders have suddenly become upbeat about their respective chances in the assembly polls to be held in January-February next year.

The AAP first saw infighting when it announced the names of candidates for 32 of the 117 assembly seats. Accusations of seats being sold to “moneybags and outsiders” were openly made.

While party leaders and volunteers, upset over the tickets distributed so far, started leaving, the Punjab unit was hit by another scandal as its convener, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, was sacked on charges of corruption after a video emerged in which he was allegedly seen taking money from a party volunteer.

Chhotepur had also contended that wrong selections were made for at least 25 of the 32 seats.

The Chhotepur episode divided the Punjab unit in the middle with nearly half of its leaders getting behind him. Despite the AAP central leadership announcing a probe into the issue, Chhotepur refused to join the proceedings and openly defied the AAP leadership.

Since then, Chhotepur and his supporters have started a political campaign against the AAP to “expose” the party’s leadership. Chhotepur openly accuses the AAP leadership, particularly AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and senior leaders Dugesh Pathak and Sanjay Singh, of sidelining the Punjabi leadership in the party. It is being alleged that the AAP Delhi leadership, comprising non-Punjabi leaders, wanted to take control of Punjab.

Chhotepur even alleged that Kejriwal was dreaming of becoming Punjab’s Chief Minister if the AAP won the assembly polls.

Till earlier this year, a few opinion polls had even projected 75-plus seats for the AAP. The party itself was putting its tally at 110-plus. But, things have changed drastically for the party. Kejriwal is trying to revive the AAP fortunes by making trips to Punjab, but things are no longer as smooth for the party as before.

The AAP has also not been able to recover from its brief political hobnobbing with Navjot Singh Sidhu. The wily Sidhu, who quit the Rajya Sabha in July and the BJP earlier this month, did not finally join the AAP, as was being speculated, and even accused Kejriwal of having nothing to offer for Punjab.

Sidhu then went ahead and launched his new political front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, but later retracted and said that it was not conducive to launch a new party at this stage. It is still not clear whether Sidhu, who has even announced that he is quitting the popular comedy show “The Kapil Sharma Show” to concentrate on Punjab, will join or support the AAP or the Congress.

Clearly, the political situation in Punjab has become uncertain. The electorate too feels the same as they are unable to decide which way to go.