September 9: Cricketer-turned-TV host- turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Thursday formally announced his own political front named Awaaz-e-Punjab, which literally means the Voice of Punjab. For all the cricket related metaphors used for the launch of the bubbly Sikh’s party, the most important fact is that his actions pose a serious threat to the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is making its foray into Punjab’s politics with the 2017 Assembly elections. Claiming on Thursday that his party was the “resurrection and revival” that Punjab needed, Sidhu might just clean bowl Kejriwal during the latter’s very first innings in the state.
Punjab has, for a very long time been ruled by the dynastic Shiromani Akali Dal. The state is thorougly riddled with corruption, drug abuse and arms smuggling rackets. In such a scenario Arvind Kejriwal’s entry might just have been perfect. People would have trusted AAP for its anti-corruption crusading background, and for want of better options chosen to trust the party over SAD and the Indian National Congress. Had Navjot Singh Sidhu decided to join the party and become its Chief Ministerial candidate, it would have meant sure success for AAP in the elections due next year. People are desperately looking for an alternative and Kejriwal’s AAP was a viable option for them. ALSO READ: Navjot Singh Sidhu attacks Arvind Kejriwal, Badals at the launch of new front
The popularity that the party enjoys in the state was clear from the stupendous attendance at Arvind Kejriwal’s Maghi festival rally in January. The crowds in attendance outnumbered even that of SAD and Congress’s public meetings. However, things have changed now. Sidhu said on Thursday that he found Kejriwal to be wanting only “yes men” to join his ranks. He revealed that making him the face of the AAP in Punjab, had in fact been AAP leadership’s trump card to win the elections, but that he rejected the offer made to him by Kejriwal, with a genial “Sat Shri Akal” (Thank you very much). Then some two weeks ago, he announced that he will be launching his own party and the political winds changed their direction instantly.
Sacked AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur immediately announced that he will be joining Sidhu’s ranks at his new front. Already, Chhotepur’s sacking on corruption charges, has lead to his supporters within the party protesting against his removal. Infighting within the state unit cannot be good news for a party wanting to make its debut in any election. Buzz also suggests that Chhotepur will be joined by some other senior party leaders, who will also join the Awaaz-e-Punjab front. Chhotepur was hired two years back by Kejriwal to become the party’s face in the elections and his sacking already set the party back in the electoral race. Now, the former Minister joining Sidhu’s party might serve as another jolt. ALSO READ: Big jolt to AAP in Punjab as 86 office-bearers of Amritsar zone resign
Speaking about AAP in Punjab, political scientist Surinder Shukla said, ”Chhotepur would take along a good chunk of AAP leaders with him. AAP leaders could have sensed it much before. Party clearly lack understanding in dealing with Punjab politics. A lot will depend how they control their supporters and leaders from falling to opposition party’s trap.”
When AAP began its campaign in Punjab, it was encouraged by favorable winds. Kejriwal was being hailed for his role in innovating pollution control measures in Delhi. Although opinions were overall divided on whether Kejriwal’s brainchild Odd-Even Scheme was a success, it did a lot in terms of spreading awareness about the power of carpool and public transport to tackle pollution. In empirical terms too, it did create some impact, reducing Delhi’s hourly particulate air pollution concentrations by 10-13 per cent. The image of Delhi that was reaching Punjab was that of a city that was changing for the better, if only marginally. ALSO READ: Former AAP Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur likely to join Navjot Sidhu’s Awaaz-e-Punjab
However, last weeks rains have once again presented an ugly image of the national capital. As roads were waterlogged and traffic crawled, the administration was chagrined with the American Secretary of State commenting on the city’s state asking the students of the Indian Institute of Technology whether they had reached the college campus in boats. Then there are the allegations by several party workers about sexual exploitation of Punjabi women by AAP leaders in return for elections tickets. This coupled with rape allegations against Kejriwal’s Cabinet Minister Sandeep Kumar, might make a severe dent on the party’s image in the state.
On the other hand, Sidhu’s prospects are nothing but bright. Although he might just have five months to build Awaaz-e-Punjab and make it election ready, it might still go on to substantially cut into AAP’s vote share. The anti-incumbency sentiment in the state will be a strong factor that will act in the favour of Sidhu’s front. Sidhu has always had a strong political presence and is a face that people connect with, given his popularity that cuts across state boundaries. His voice is an honest one and his opinions are his own. Sidhu is a very lucrative brand in himself and during elections, more than strategies and poll promises, what works is the face that people are willing to believe and trust in. In that sense Navjot Singh Sidhu is the whole package and that definitely does not bode well for Arvind Kejriwal.