HT Analysis| AAP desperately seeking Punjab

Jatin Gandhi: The Aam Aadmi Party is fighting a hard battle, against the perception that it cannot hold it together in Punjab.

In the last few days, it has taken a series of steps to send out the message that Punjab and Punjabis are its top priority.
In Rome for Mother Teresa’s canonisation, party leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal recorded a video message late on Saturday with a group of immigrants and NRIs from the state and the party was quick to circulate on social media his “message to Punjab”.
Amid cheers of “Bole So Nihal…”, a Sikh greeting as well as a call to action, Kejriwal promised to fix it all.
“The four or five months before the elections are crucial. We are fighting the Badals but there are some people who are fighting us. These people are helping the Badals, directly or covertly. Beware of them,” he warned.
He is right. There is a lot that AAP needs to fix. Early this year, the party emerged as a serious contender in the state, making the rivals jittery. A series of missteps in the last few weeks and the rivals are saying the party peaked too early and is imploding.
“They will spread rumours about us but Waheguru (god) is with us…I am coming to Punjab on September 8 and I am taking the reins of the Punjab elections in my hands. You don’t have to worry about anything,” he said, rounding off his message with the traditional Sikh greeting of Sat Sri Akal.
New Punjab leader
On Sunday evening, AAP rushed to announce comedian and actor Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi its Punjab convener. Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann is popular with crowds but faces a police case for allegedly inciting violence against journalists who were covering his rally. The party had to turn to Ghuggi who is barely six months old in the party.
The leadership wants to shed the “anti-Punjabi/anti-Sikh” tag its former Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhottepur pinned on it after being removed from the position over allegations of corruption on August 26. The party showed Chhotepur the door citing its zero tolerance towards corruption policy but it fuelled the perception that the leader was the victim of “outsiders versus locals” battle raging within the party.
Soon came the next blow. AAP failed to reach an understanding with cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and instead of gaining a Sikh face it was desperate for, it lost another in Chhotepur.
Sidhu has launched his own outfit, Awaaz-e-Punjab, and is getting poll-ready.
Double whammy
A senior AAP leader agreed that both the episodes had hurt the party and the flow of donations from Punjabis abroad. Chhotepur’s allegations that AAP had failed to keep a record of donations have dented the party’s transparency claims.
When it contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, AAP expected many more wins than the four it managed — all of them in Punjab. The border state seemed ready to embrace the newcomer and AAP strategists believed the party would have done better had it not been an untested first-timer.
Delhi was the party’s blueprint for Punjab. In the 2013 state elections in the Capital, AAP finished a close second to the BJP. Short of the majority mark, AAP took the support of the Congress but the government didn’t last, forcing snap elections.
The next year, it demolished competition and returned with a record 67 seats in a 70-member House.
Fancying it chances, AAP began its Punjab campaign early and emerged as a serious challenge to opponents – the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress, desperate to make a comeback.
It may have lacked the numbers but made up for them by projecting itself as an honest alterative to voters in a state where corruption will be the dominating poll issue.
It doesn’t want to end up being a one-state wonder but to win the 2017 election war, AAP will first have to win the perception battle.