Ke­jri­wal to be the Sar­dar of Cam­paign, Not CM Face

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - Aman Sharma & Ak­shay Desh­mane

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 in­de­pen­ 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.

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