August 3, 2021 10:54:39 am
As Punjab prepares for the Assembly polls early next year, the principal opposition party in the state, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is once again grappling with the same question that vexed it in the run up to the 2017 polls – who will be its chief ministerial candidate.
The urgency within the ranks regarding the announcement of a credible name as the CM candidate is palpable and this is what has prompted party national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, to make an announcement in Amritsar a few weeks back that they will nominate a Sikh on the top post.
There is a clear indication within the legislative leadership of the party that the sooner the name of the CM candidate is announced the better it will be for the party to galvanise its cadres. This is why, during a meeting with Kejriwal in Delhi Sunday, the Punjab AAP MLAs once again raised the issue.
Speaking to mediapersons at the party office here on Monday, senior party leader Harpal Singh Cheema said that the name of the CM candidate had not yet been finalised. Answering a question regarding the demand made by the MLAs before Kejriwal, Cheema, who is also the Leader of Opposition, said, “Whenever a decision on the name is taken, we will inform everyone”.
Certain AAP leaders say that the only cogent name available with AAP at present was that of its Sangrur MP and state president, Bhagwant Mann. However, the party leadership is still looking for more options and the search is still on. “I cannot tell you how long it will take. I cannot put a date on it. But it may take at least one or two months. There are many parameters, which have to be considered before arriving at such a decision,” said a senior leader who did not want to be named.
Sources within AAP say that the failure to identify a potential CM candidate and groom him for the position has been one of the biggest failures of the party in Punjab. “There was ample time to have highlighted one or two names who could have been projected as CM candidate. However, this never happened. Even in the case of Bhagwant Mann, there has been ambiguity and it has never been made clear that he would be the face of the party for the 2022 polls,” said an AAP MLA who did not want to be named.
Another senior leader said there was no doubt in the minds of the party cadres and state leadership that the election will be fought under the name of Kejriwal as was the case in 2017. “This much is very clear. There is no better face to be leading the charge for 2022 than Kejriwal especially now that we have to face the twin challenges of Capt Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu. However, a credible CM face has still to be projected and with the kind of baggage Bhagwant Mann carries, his name may not be the best choice,” the leader said.
Sources in AAP say that the central leadership of the party is carefully considering the potential fallout of the farmers’ protests, SAD-BSP tie up and the manner in which Sidhu is able to rejuvenate dejected Congress cadres. “There is no need for us to arrive at a hurried decision. There are still nearly seven months to go for the polls. We can afford to wait for another few months because that is when the poll fever will set in properly,” a senior AAP leader confided.
Given the present scenario of AAP leadership in the state, including the sitting MLAs, there are not many names which can be considered. The sole name which has a pan Punjab recognition is that of Bhagwant Mann.
However, a section of AAP leaders dispute that Mann is the only option with the party. “When it is clear that the elections have to be fought in the name of Kejriwal, it will not matter even if a lesser known face emerges as long as he appeals to all sections of the voters,” said a Punjab leader.
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