Updated: April 9, 2022 10:28:45 pm
Barely two days after Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the party’s Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann held a “Tiranga Yatra” in Mandi in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Himachal Pradesh, the AAP’s HP unit chief along with two other functionaries switched to the saffron party late on Friday night under dramatic circumstances.
At 12.51 am Saturday, Union minister Anurag Thakur tweeted that the HP AAP’s chief Anoop Kesari, general secretary Satish Thakur and Una head Iqbal Singh has joined the BJP fold in the presence of its president JP Nadda. A BJP MP from Hamirpur, Anurag is the son of two-time HP CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. Nadda also hails from HP.
After being jolted by the development, the AAP hit back at the BJP, claiming it was about to expel Kesari from the party Saturday anyways as allegations against him for “disrespecting women” have surfaced. Senior AAP leader and Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia charged that Anurag and Nadda had “rushed” to Shimla at midnight with the “sole purpose to induct an AAP member into their party, who was on the verge of being expelled from the party”.
“Such people truly belong to the BJP, AAP will never, even for a minute, tolerate disrespect of women in its party… BJP national president Nadda and Union minister and BJP’s future HP CM candidate Anurag Thakur hastily held an emergency press conference for this induction…to get an opportunity to talk about CM Arvind Kejriwal and build a narrative against the AAP,” Sisodia said, alleging that a “man with a dubious record was embraced by the BJP president” in the process.
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Sisodia also said the BJP leadership’s “hurried move” reflected its “great fear” of Kejriwal. Referring to this, the AAP supremo tweeted: “They (BJP) are not scared of me but of the people. If they had worked for the people honestly, they would not have been scared, they would not change their CM, and would not have fallen at the feet of tainted people from other parties. People have faith in AAP. AAP will give HP a staunchly honest and patriotic government.”
Kejriwal and Mann’s Wednesday road show in Mandi had drawn crowds, with a completely packed square closed off for its conclusion in the evening. Sisodia later said that stung by its success the BJP would replace its “non-performing and unpopular” HP CM Jai Ram Thakur with Anurag Thakur in the run-up to the coming state Assembly polls.
After being inducted into the BJP, Kesari, however, said he and his two colleagues had taken the decision to join the BJP as during his Mandi visit Kejriwal “did not have the time to meet party workers”. “Party workers, who have been part of AAP and have been working in Himachal Pradesh for eight years, waited for hours to meet him (Kejriwal) on Wednesday but he did not give them time and insulted them. The people of Himachal will not tolerate this,” he claimed.
A senior AAP leader said, “As the party leadership gets more involved with organisation building in Himachal, some people are getting disgruntled. But the party is looking at the best people for the job. Since the time that AAP has been in Himachal, many senior workers have managed to do very little work.”
After its landslide victory in the recent Punjab Assembly polls, where it won 92 out of 117 seats, the AAP, as part of its national expansion plans, is now focusing on contesting the Assembly polls in HP and Gujarat, which are due at the end of this year.
The Mandi roadshow was conceived as the official start to the AAP’s campaign in the hill state, where the Congress is the principal Opposition party. The BJP seems to be wary of the AAP’s rising ambition. HP politics has always been a two-party affair involving the BJP and the Congress, which the AAP is aiming to disrupt, even as it aims to replace the grand old party as the principal challenger to the BJP in the country as party of its national project.
Nadda is on a four-day tour of his native state, during which he is expected to visit over 20 places and interact with party workers.
Over the past few months, the buzz about the BJP leadership being “unhappy” with the incumbent CM has been doing the rounds. In Mandi, Jai Ram Thakur’s home turf, locals call him “honest, but ineffective”.
“He (Jai Ram) is an honest man, but lacks dynamism. He has not done much work beyond his own constituency (Seraj). The Congress won the Mandi Lok Sabha seat bypoll because former CM Virbhadra Singh’s wife, Pratibha Singh, got sympathy votes. People are not likely to do that again. Overall, there is some disillusionment with both parties in the state at present,” said Chaman Lal, a businessman from Mandi Bazaar.
What is going to be especially challenging for the AAP in HP is to reach out to most of its voters, given that 90 per cent of its population live in villages. Without an elaborate party organisation, structures and cadre down to the booth level across the state, it would be an uphill task to make this outreach.
“AAP is looking particularly attractive to young voters at present, but one has to remember that existing party cadres based on decades of groundwork are very strong in Himachal. Even if people are miffed at leaders, switching to a new party is going to be tough,” said Meenakshi Mahant, who co-owns a jewellery store in Mandi.
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