Kejriwal to be the Sardar of Campaign, Not CM Face
On the lines of local strategy adopted by BJP in Maharashtra & Haryana, AAP likely to have a turbaned CM face in Punjab
New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is unlikely to be the CM face for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab and a local face will be projected to ride on Kejriwal’s popularity and win the elections due early next year, multiple AAP functionaries say.
This could be AAP taking a cue from theBJPstrategyof usingModi’spopularity to win elections in Maharashtra and Haryana where local leaders like Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar were installed as BJP Chief Ministers. ET spoke to multiple AAP and Congress leaders to understand the ongoing Punjab politics. “Kejriwal willbethefaceof thecampaignbutnot the CM candidate. Kejriwal leaving Delhi CM seat and elevating Manish SisodiaasDelhiCMmaysoundlogical to some but will not happen,” an AAP leader told ET on the condition of anonymity. Senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh, who is engrossed in the Punjab campaign, said Kejriwal has never said he will be a CM candidate for Punjab and it was never AAP’s claim as well. “We will give a clean and acceptable face to all as our CM candidate to people of Punjab…it will have to be a local face. The decision will be taken in 3-4 months,” Singh told ET, unwilling to name any particular person. When asked if AAP Sangrur Member of Parliament, Bhagwant Mann, was AAP’s most popular local face, Singh told ET: “No doubt, Mann is our most popular local face.” Mann, a turbaned leader, is already In-charge of AAP’s Punjab campaign.
The issue has come to the fore after the r e c e n t C - Vo t e r - Huffington Post opinion poll predicted a huge majority for AAP with 94-100 seats out of 117 seats in the elections early next year and a majorityof voterspreferringKejriwal asthemostpopularCMface.Congress is now raising the issue of a “turbaned Punjabi CM face”, saying it has CaptainAmarinderSinghinthesame while its main competitor, AAP, is still to declare one, pointing out that Kejriwalisan“outsiderfromHaryana andanon-Sikh”.AkeyCongressstrategist told ET that it is significant that the opinion poll ratings were much lower for any other AAP face, including Mann. “If AAP announces Kejriwal’sname,therewillbecounterpolarization. Whether Punjab will be ready to take a non-Sikh as CM which has not happened since independence...it is a big question. Suppose if AAP nominates a Punjabi face, will that face have same popularity as Kejriwal vis-à-vis Captain? If not, what happens to AAP popularity then?” the Congress leader asked. He also pointed out that as per the poll, nearly 1/3rd of the voters were still
AAP Sikh leaders like Bhagwant Mann, Sucha Singh Chotepur and Gurpreet Singh Ghugi are at the forefront of its rallies
undecided. “The Akalis meanwhile are not even in the fight. BJP may contest alone in Punjab,” he said.
AAP leaders privately admit that the “turbaned CM face” is an issue, explaining hence its Sikh leaders like Bhagwant Mann, Sucha Singh Chotepur and Gurpreet Singh Ghugi being at the forefront in rallies including the big Baisakhi rally on Wednesday which Kejriwal did not attend. However, AAP’s Sanjay Singh claim the “turbaned CM face” was a non-issue among Punjab people right now.“TheissuesamongPunjabpeople are drug abuse, farmer suicides, law andorderandcorruption.Peoplewant an honest government to address these issues. The issues being raised by congress of turbaned face are artificial and nakli mudde. The various turbaned faces of Punjab of other parties - be it Sukhbir Badal or Captain - are all discredited,” Singh said. Prof Bhupinder Singh Brar of Political S c i e nc e De p a r t ment, Panj ab University, said projecting a face plays a lot of importance in Punjab. “It has lesstodowithCongressandmoretodo with politics of Badals. Parkash Singh Badal, at one time, enjoyed a lot of credibility. It was personal charisma. This time definitely it is the personality of Kejriwal. If you talk to people, everybody says if Kejriwal himself becomes a CM candidate, AAP will win hands down. Credibility of AAP essentially depends upon charisma of Kejriwal personally,” Brar said.
The urban vote bank has been traditionally of the Congress in Punjab thought it lost it in the 2012 assembly elections due to UPA’s image, a senior Congress leader said. “AAP is now aiming for that too,” he said, conceding that AAP already has a clear traction in rural Punjab. Congress is hence first consolidating its primary vote bank – with Captain Amarinder Singh hosting Coffee with Captain events in major cit-
ies with urban youth. “AAP started early in Punjab but so far, AAP has been playing in their own D –there was no challenge from the other side. But since this month, the Punjab discourse is about what Captain is doing, not AAP,” the leader said. Congress campaign strategist Prashant Kishor is said to be planning a separate strategy for Captain’s upcoming outreach cam- paign in semi-urban and rural Punjab - Captainwouldalsobetouringabroadto garner support from Punjab NRIs who are an important influencer. AAP leaders however say they already have done extensive campaigning abroad and Congress is only following suit. “SAD, Congress and AAP had congregations on Baisakhi at Talwandi Sabo. AAP meeting had the maximum crowds,” Sanjay Singh said. AAP’s Durgesh Pathak, in charge of Organisation Building, questions Captain’s public connect, saying he had been out of active politics for almost 10 years.
A senior Congress leader, however ,countered: “Captain is taking questions live from youngsters at Coffee withCaptaineventswithoutanyintermediary...the event starts after 6 pm while the opposition alleges Captain is unavailable after 6 pm,” the Congress leader said. A senior Akali leader meanwhile said Congress entire winning strategy was premised on AAP failing if Kejriwal is not projected as CM, while ignoring the fact that “Prakash Singh Badal is the most widelyacceptedturbanedleaderinthe state”. A senior AAP leader discounts both the Congress and Badals plank. “Kejriwal not being CM will not impact AAP’s chances in Punjab. Our 4 MPs from Punjab won in Lok Sabha elections though Kejriwal did not contest as MP. Votes will be cast for Kejriwal’s image of corruption-free governance,” the AAP leader said.