AAP’s poor show in the recent civic body polls in Punjab has once again started rumblings within the party over the state unit being dominated by the Delhi high-command.
While state unit chief Bhagwant Mann was busy with Parliament during the polls and visited only for two days to campaign, the fight on the ground was led by Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, along with Raghav Chadha who is co-incharge of Punjab unit, three-time Delhi MLA Jarnail Singh, who is Punjab affairs in-charge, and Anmol Gagan Mann, co-convenor of AAP Punjab’s youth wing.
While Jarnail Singh went around declaring that he will now be with people of Punjab till Assembly polls next year, Raghav Chadha was, who was key star campaigner for AAP and was made co-incharge of Punjab unit in December last year, held several roadshows beginning February 8. But in the end, AAP just managed to win 60 seats out of 2,218.
Reacting over the dismal results, an AAP worker from Faridkot said, “If we look at the social media page of AAP, we see Raghav Chadha, Jarnail Singh, and Anmol Gagan Mann in abundance. They were all over the campaign in civic body polls and Bhagwant Mann, who is president of the party in Punjab, came just for two days and he remained busy in Parliament. AAP has 19 MLAs in Punjab. Were they not enough to lead this campaign on their own?”
While Raghav Chadha visited Punjab for four days and held roadshows in Bathinda, Batala, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala, Dasuya, Hoshiarpur, Nangal, Rupnagar, and Derabassi, Jarnail Singh remained here for a whole week and campaigned in more than 14 districts across Punjab.
On February 12, the last day of the campaign, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia also came to Amritsar to pay obeisance at Golden Temple and Durgiana Mandir. He also addressed the media at Amritsar. Bhagwant Mann, however, campaigned on February 7 and February 12 in Rajpura, Fatehgarh Sahib, Nabha, and Patiala areas.
LoP Harpal Singh Cheema was seen extensively in the entire campaign throughout Punjab.
Cheema said, “Mann was busy with Parliament session where he was raising his voice over farm laws as the dates clashed with poll campaign dates.”
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, AAP had registered an impressive performance in Punjab when it sent four MPs from Sangrur, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib, and Patiala constituencies to Parliament. At that time, the party had won in 33 Vidhan Sabha constituencies and was at second place in 25 Vidhan Sabha constituencies and had grabbed 25 per cent of the total vote share.
The 2014 polls were fought by the Punjab unit on its own and Sumail Singh Sidhu was the then convenor of the campaign committee of AAP’s Punjab unit. However in 2017, Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak came to Punjab to campaign for Vidhan Sabha polls.
Sidhu told The Indian Express, “I had left the party immediately after the polls due to the differences of opinion within the party. I feel that it is the Punjab unit’s total inability to stand on its own and hence Delhi unit desires to control the Punjab unit. Yes, in 2014 we had campaigned on our own and the results were before everyone.”
Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former Leader of Opposition and an AAP MLA said, “They have learned no lessons from the past. It seems that they don’t trust their Punjab team at all. They want to have all the control from Delhi and this was the reason that I had raised my voice demanding autonomy for the Punjab unit, but it seems that still, they want to work the way other traditional parties are working. In 2014, their vote share was 25 per cent while in 2017 it was reduced to 24 per cent. In 2019, it dropped drastically to 7 per cent and now in civic body elections, it is just 3 per cent. They have lost the ground in Punjab and hence are showing Delhi faces more than the Punjab MLAs. In fact, they have turned into another BSP in Punjab.”
Khaira was removed as LoP by AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. In April 2019, he had resigned as AAP MLA and had even floated his own party Punjab Ekta Party, and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Bathinda seat. However in October 2019, he had withdrawn his resignation as MLA.
Khaira said,”I am no longer associated with AAP, but yes, technically I am an AAP MLA.”
Though other local MLAs like Meet Hayer, Baljinder Kaur, Aman Arora, etc also campaigned in their constituencies, however, Chadha and Singh were shown as the main faces of the campaign in the entire civic body elections.
When asked whether the local team was not enough to run the campaign for civic body polls, Cheema said, “Every party has a structure and they do appoint leaders for different states. This happens in other parties like Congress, BJP as well when Punjab affairs in charge and other leaders are appointed by their head office. So, I don’t think there is anything to object. I also went all over the state. I campaigned in Bathinda, Moga, Dasuya, Dinanagar, Mukerian, Kapurthala, etc places and we won seats from different places. We are doing self-introspection of our performance in civic body polls as well. We will think about where we went wrong and what improvements we need to do. However, overall we are getting responses from urban as well as rural areas and as unfair means were followed by Congress, hence one cannot even call them proper elections.”
Sources said that AAP failed in the recent polls as it did not do a good job of capitalising on the farmers’ agitation.
“AAP’s Delhi unit could not do mobilisation exercise in Delhi by doing Mohalla meetings. They are not even able to organise some Mahapanchayat on their own so as to connect to farmers,” said Sumail Sidhu.
Meanwhile, AAP won in 9 wards out of a total of 401 wards of Municipal Corporations (including bypoll at one ward in Amritsar) while
they won in 51 wards out of 1,817 wards of Municipal Councils/Nagar Panchayats. They could not win even a single ward on party symbol in Sangrur, from where the party has their lone MP.
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