With assembly elections in Punjab just two years away, the challenge for AAP is to reinvigorate the faction-ridden state unit and overcome the trust deficit with the people. Sidhu, state AAP leaders feel, can not only be the rallying force but also rope in smaller political entities, such as Simarjit Singh Bains’s Lok Insaaf Party.
Sidhu, though, is keeping his cards close to his chest, and did not respond to messages and calls from INDIA TODAY. The Congress MLA from Amritsar East resigned from the Punjab cabinet last July amid heightened tensions with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. He has been keeping a low profile ever since. In November 2019, Sidhu attended the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor, but not as part of the Punjab government delegation. He did not campaign for the Congress in the Delhi election either.
AAP leaders in Punjab claim Prashant Kishor, who strategised their party’s Delhi campaign, had a word with Sidhu. If negotiations do make any headway, a major pain point will be Sidhu’s insistence on being projected as the chief ministerial candidate and being given a free hand to pick candidates. AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal will also have to factor in Sidhu’s penchant for courting controversies. There’s high recall of his controversial trip to Pakistan for prime minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony in 2018, when he was seen hugging Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, and his unsavoury remarks on India’s air strikes in Balakot in 2019.
A key event that could shape the course of the Punjab assembly poll will be the elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) next year. While the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has controlled the SGPC for over three decades, the party lost a section of the panthic vote for its unconvincing stand on incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015.
AAP has attracted several Sikh politicians with an SGPC background in the past six years. Rebel Akali factions, including SAD (Taksali), are eyeing an alliance with these leaders for the SGPC poll. A defeat for the SAD in the SGPC will indirectly benefit AAP. Sidhu has clear feelers from SAD (Taksali). Sidhu is welcome to join us, but his being incommunicado does not help, says Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the Rajya Sabha MP who has joined forces with the outfit.
This is not AAP’s first attempt to woo Sidhu. After quitting the BJP in 2016, Sidhu had held inconclusive parleys with Kejriwal. On Kishor’s suggestion, he met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka and joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Punjab election.
Outside Delhi, AAP has presence only in the Punjab assembly. The party’s lone Lok Sabha MP, Bhagwant Singh Mann, represents Sangrur in the state. In the previous assembly poll, AAP captured 20 seats and a 23.8 per cent vote share. Subsequently, MLAs Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Baldev Singh quit to launch the Punjab Ekta Dal while Amarjit Singh Sandhoa and Nazar Singh Manshahia joined the Congress. Advocate-turned-politician H.S. Phoolka resigned from his seat and MLA Kanwar Sandhu remains suspended from the party. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, AAP polled 7.6 per cent votes in Punjab and 12 of its candidates lost their deposits. Should he join, Sidhu could be the booster shot AAP needs in Punjab. But, for now, he is keeping everyone guessing.
Source INDIA TODAY