Turning down a police request to convert stadiums into makeshift detention centres, dispatching a group of party leaders in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and engaging ground workers to make logistical arrangements for farmers entering the capital — for the Aam Aadmi Party, Friday was an opportunity to try and reclaim lost ground in Punjab, where the party has largely remained in a state of tumult ever since it finished second in the 2017 assembly polls with 20 seats.
After the Delhi Police made public the fact that its request to convert nine stadiums into makeshift detention centres remains pending with the Delhi government, the AAP unrolled a coordinated campaign, as part of which its leaders publicly demanded that the police request be turned down.
Within hours, the government released a note signed by Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain, spelling out the decision to reject the police request. The party also sent a small group of leaders and workers in front of the Prime Minister’s residence to stage a protest against the farm laws.
Later, its MLAs went to the Nirankari ground to oversee arrangements for the farmers. The Delhi Jal Board under MLA Radhav Chadha also appointed nodal officers to ensure availability of water tankers at the site.
“It was an attempt to reoccupy some mind space. Recently, the state unit also appointed 460 block presidents across 22 districts to strengthen the organisation. Efforts are being made but the outcome remains to be seen,” said a Delhi-based senior AAP leader.
The AAP leadership’s inability to project a strong local face in Punjab had hamstrung the party’s prospects in 2017. The issue continues to fester even as it made its popular Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann the chief of the state unit, and foisted a new Leader of the Opposition after a split in 2018.
While the AAP strongly opposed the farm legislations in the Parliament, with its Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh taking the lead and the party holding a day-long protest at Jantar Mantar, its attempt to distance itself from the Congress and the SAD and take an independent stand ended up confounding many.
The party supported the Bills brought by the Congress government in the Punjab Assembly to negate the central law. However, it publicly downplayed the importance of the move, saying it would matter little as states cannot amend central laws — a position that invited a scathing attack from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
“The party has not been able to capture the pulse of the ongoing agitation. Friday’s moves can be seen as course correction. Five days ago, Mann had also urged party workers to join the protests without any banner. It also held some gram sabhas to oppose the new legislations,” another leader said.
A senior AAP functionary explained how the party has its sights firmly set on the 2022 assembly polls: “The SAD will look to retain and reclaim its rural Jat Sikh base. Amarinder, who appears to have patched up with Navjot Singh Sidhu, is facing anti-incumbency but remains a force to reckon with. The AAP had won big in the rural Malwa belt in 2017. It will base its campaign against corruption, trafficking and achievements in governance in Delhi.”
AAP insiders said Friday’s positioning was also an attempt to blunt a “whisper campaign” by the Congress and SAD that the Delhi government wants to impose lockdown ahead of the protests.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government also directed the revenue department to arrange tents, mobile toilets and deploy sanitation staff at the venue. In the evening, the BJP-ruled North municipal corporation also issued a statement, saying it is engaging teams for preparing the ground “so that the farmers do not have to face any inconvenience”.
“The North DMC is preparing Nirankari ground by putting teams for road sweeping, cleaning, placing dustbins for collection and regular lifting of garbage, sanitisation of the area keeping in view the Covid-19 pandemic, fumigation, and deploying mobile dispensaries and water tankers. The teams deployed have started functioning at war-footing,” it said.
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