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Punjab elections: will overconfidence be AAP's undoing?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The claim

  • Arvind Kejriwal claims AAP will win 107 seats in Punjab. Is he being overconfident
  • Polls are due in only February 2017. AAP has to settle its internal problems
  • The party doesn\'t have a CM candidate and its losing momentum

More in the story

  • What opponents say about AAP\'s claims
  • What problems is AAP facing?

The Assembly elections in Punjab are due early next year. The general perception at this point is that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a clear front-runner.

Emboldened by a recent poll survey that gave AAP 95 to 100 seats out of a total 117, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has claimed that his party would romp home with 107 seats while the remaining would be won by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Read- Campaign season: how AAP is trying to win over Punjab's voters

Interestingly, he did not give even a single seat to the Congress that is fighting the electoral battle under the leadership of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and with Prashant Kishor as its chief strategist. Kishor is credited with drawing up Narendra Modi's poll strategy for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Nitish Kumar for last year's Bihar Assembly polls.

Is AAP being overconfident?

There are several months to go for the polls and AAP has several problems within its own rank and file.

Ridiculing Kejriwal's claims of AAP winning 107 seats, Amarinder said that he is living in a fool's paradise. "Like the People's Party of Punjab (PPP), AAP will soon vanish into the thin air," he said. The PPP had recently merged into the Congress.

Amarinder said, "PPP leader Manpreet Badal still has integrity and credibility to his credit and he is a son of the soil. Kejriwal lacks in all these attributes," he added.

Amarinder pointed out that after 2014, when the AAP won four parliamentary seats in Punjab, it split vertically. Two of its parliamentarians have already revolted.

"If Kejriwal thinks he can fool Punjabis by inserting multi-page paid news supplements in Punjab's newspapers, spending the money of taxpayers of Delhi, he is mistaken.

Discontent within

The first rumblings of serious discontent within the AAP came to the fore recently when senior leader and advocate HS Phoolka, considered to be a close confidant of Kejriwal, released a video saying that no one should approach him for tickets to contest the polls. Virtually declaring he has no say in AAP affairs, Phoolka suggested ticket aspirants should approach AAP's state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur.

Also read- Testing the waters: can Badal's belligerence over #SYLcanal save him in '17

Phoolka was the AAP's Lok Sabha candidate from Ludhiana. Last year, he resigned from all the party posts to focus full-time on the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases.

But his trips abroad, particularly to Canada, where there was a social media campaign to declare him the next chief ministerial candidate, conveyed something else. Some think he expected a greater role in the political affairs committee of the party in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

"Phoolka's outburst is being seen as a major development that has the potential to rock the party in the run-up to the February 2017 elections," said senior political analyst Jagtar Singh.

HS Phoolka's outburst is a major sign of discontent within the Punjab AAP

Over the last couple of days, Phoolka has again caused a commotion in Punjab's political circles by claiming that he was approached by one Dr Bipin Jha on behalf of Prashant Kishor during his England visit. Kishor's Indian Political Action Committee has reportedly denied any such move. Phoolka has reportedly claimed that Jha tried to contact him through Inderpal Singh Shergill who was the organiser of his events in England asking him to talk to Jha or Kishor, which he refused to do.

One of the AAP's suspended MPs, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, recently told a Canadian network that if the polls are held today, the party would bag between 70 and 80 seats. At the same time he pointed that there is still a long time to go for the polls and many corrections need to be made.

Observers point out that things would become much clearer once the party declares its chief ministerial candidate. The party leadership has been ambiguous on the issue so far. There have been campaigns in the social media promoting various leaders as the chief ministerial choice for the state. It is also being pointed that there are many ambitious people wanting tickets to contest the polls and it remains to be seen how the party placates those who get left out.

Sustaining the momentum

With no representation in the state assembly, it was the SAD and the Congress hogging the limelight during the month long budget session of the assembly while the AAP stood on the sidelines. The party has been unable to come up with a well defined stand on certain emotive issues in the state like the sharing of Punjab's river waters with the neighbouring states and construction of Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, denying voting rights to Sehajdharis for Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) elections and so on. It was the chief minister Parkash Singh Badal dictating the agenda on these issues.

There were also reports that the AAP's Punjab dialogue was getting a mixed response from voters. The outcome of the dialogue is expected to be incorporated in AAP's manifesto.

Read more: AAP, Congress & SAD take Delhi politics to Punjab

The party would need to sustain the hype till the polls. But that won't be easy. Two of AAP's recent media briefings, supposedly exposing Akalis and the Congress, turned out to be old issues. The first one was on the money laundering allegations against Amarinder's family and the second was on the alleged involvement of Punjab cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia in drug trade.

Meanwhile, cautioning Punjabi NRIs from lending support to the AAP, Amarinder has been pointing that any new "experimentation" at this crucial juncture could prove disastrous for the state.

"Punjab has been ruined during the 10 years of misrule of the Akali-BJP combine and another five years of any misadventure would bring the state to its knees, making recovery impossible," he said at a reception organised by the Punjabi NRIs in Los Angeles on Sunday. He said that Kejriwal is now dreaming of becoming the chief minister of Punjab.

He said the inefficient functioning of the Delhi government, evident from the prevailing dissatisfaction among the residents of Delhi, had exposed Kejriwal's lies and it was only a matter of time that the party's misplaced hype in Punjab would fade.

How AAP manages to capitalise on the inroads it has made in Punjab in the coming months remains to be seen.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 11 May 2016, 7:31 IST