By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, June 26 (IANS) After being seen as the strongest political challenger in Punjab ahead of next year’s assembly elections and even being touted to be the front-runner in occupying power in the state, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to be losing a bit of that steam.
The AAP leadership in the state is now grappling with problems like finding a face to project as its chief ministerial candidate, deciding on tickets for the 117 assembly seats and even keeping its leaders and flock together.
With the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the opposition Congress sharpening their attacks on the AAP, the newest political force in Punjab is finding it difficult to keep pace with the political peak that it had attained earlier this year.
Opinion polls by private agencies, political parties and even some intelligence agencies had put AAP in the front seat as far as winning the next assembly election — likely to be held in February 2017 — is concerned.
The AAP was being projected as getting between 72 and 85 seats in the assembly. AAP leaders themselves started believing that the party would get over 100 seats and would do a repeat of Delhi, where it won a whopping 67 of the 70 assembly seats in the February 2015 elections.
Among other things, the AAP has not been able to announce its first list of candidates, which it had promised to announce by the last week of May or the first week of June.
AAP in-charge for Punjab Sanjay Singh had told IANS earlier that the first list of candidates would be released latest by the first week of June.
The party has now put off the release till end of this month.
Insiders say that the delay was caused by too many candidates seeking a ticket from each constituency. “When the names are announced, a lot of people will get upset and the party leadership is worried about a rebellion before the assembly polls,” one senior AAP leader told IANS here.
The AAP has also not been able to select one leader who would be its face for the assembly polls.
The main contenders are AAP Punjab Convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur, who has been leading the party’s affairs for the past over two years; and the AAP MP from Sangrur, comedian-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann. Even the name of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal is mentioned sometimes but that is unlikely to happen.
The AAP leadership has also not made much effort or headway in getting back into its fold two of its sitting MPs from Punjab.
Last August, the AAP had suspended party MPs Dharamavira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa from its primary membership and initiated disciplinary proceedings against them.
Gandhi, a cardiologist and known social worker, is an MP from Patiala constituency while Khalsa, a former diplomat, represents Fatehgarh Sahib.
The Akali Dal is highlighting the “double standards” of the Kejriwal government in Delhi on contentious issues like river waters and justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims.
The Congress openly accuses Kejriwal and AAP of misleading people and even charges them with telling lies.
Both the parties are also trying to pin the “outsider” tag on the AAP’s top leadership, which is mainly from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
It is clear that the Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the Congress are not comfortable with a triangular contest which the AAP is creating.
The AAP, on its part, will have to get its act together well in time to ensure that it takes advantage of its position as a serious challenger in the assembly polls. Otherwise, it will have to pay the political price of having peaked at the wrong time.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)