SANGRUR: In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took everyone by surprise when they managed to win four seats in Punjab. Five years later, the party is banking on the work done by their state leadership and the AAP-led Delhi government. However, infighting and formation of splinter groups have weakened the party’s organizational structure, denting its prospects in the state.
Punjab is of key importance for the AAP. In 2017, AAP had won 20 seats in its debut elections for the Punjab assembly to emerge as the main opposition party, while Congress won 77 seats. After Delhi, Punjab is the only state where the party has managed to expand its electoral footprint.
“The state has two options—Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). People are tired of both not doing anything for us. The state needs a strong third alternative. In 2014, the reason why the AAP did so well was because Arvind Kejriwal and AAP seemed to be a third option. In five years, the party does not have enough power to do any work, there has been a lot of infighting within and many leaders have already left," said Hardeep Singh, 70, a farmer from Bahadurpur village in Sangrur.
The AAP fancies its chances in 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab, despite the fact that the Congress and the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine are forces to reckon with.
In the final week of campaigning, senior AAP leaders, including Delhi chief minister and party national convener Arvind Kejriwal and deputy chief minister and state-in-charge Manish Sisodia, have been addressing public meetings and holding roadshows across the state. The party had received maximum support from the youth and rural areas in the 2014 elections.
“Both PM Modi and Captain Amarinder Singh have cheated the people. They have not fulfilled a single promise made to the people of Punjab. In Delhi, we have provided people with quality healthcare and education," Kejriwal said while addressing a public meeting in Sangrur.
Sangrur is one of the four seats that the party won in the 2014 elections. Comedian-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann, the sitting member of Parliament (MP), had won with a margin of over 200,000 votes. Mann, who is the chief of AAP’s Punjab unit, continues to be a popular leader.
“Punjab needs an alternative. Bhagwant Mann has brought awareness. He has used his MP fund for the people. Before this we had no idea where that fund went. He raises issues concerning Punjab, including the drug menace and farmers’ woes, in the Parliament. He does so in an innovative manner which catches the attention of people," said Ramandeep Singh, 22, a student from Barnala in Sangrur.
This time Mann is contesting against Kewal Singh Dhillon of the Congress and SAD’s Parminder Singh Dhindsa. The constituency also has a rebel AAP candidate, Jassi Jasraj.
In 2016, AAP had expelled two of its MPs, representing Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib, for anti-party activities. Founding state unit chief Succha Singh Chotepur was also expelled over differences with the party leadership. The leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly, AAP’s Sukhpal Singh Khaira, has also quit to form a separate party. Two AAP MLAs have also quit to join the Congress. AAP is also facing criticism after Kejriwal apologized to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia, who had filed a defamation case against the Delhi CM for his comments over use of drugs in the state.
Dharamvir Gandhi, the sitting MP from Patiala, is contesting this election as part of the Punjab Democratic Alliance, after he was expelled from AAP for anti-party activities.
“Gandhi is a well respected man. He does such good work for the people and is very approachable. But he is contesting from a party which has no national agenda. What difference can he make if he wins one seat? He will only divide AAP votes in this seat, especially when he is contesting against Preneet Kaur of the Congress," said Mohinder Jeet Singh, 50, shopkeeper selling juttis (traditional footwear).
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