For a party that was once considered an alternative to the revolving door governments of the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine in Punjab, to a party marred by factionalism and rebellion, the Aam Admi Party has sure come a long way. So much so, that even after bagging four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 20 of the 117 Assembly seats in 2017, the AAP is finding it difficult to pick a candidate for the Ludhiana parliamentary constituency.
The seat is currently represented by Congress’ Ravneet Singh Bittu who is the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. Bittu had defeated the AAP candidate, HS Phoolka in a close fight. Phoolka, a senior Supreme Court advocate and 1984 anti-Sikh riots activist, had narrowed the gap to just about 20,000 votes. He had even managed to push Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Manpreet Singh Ayali to third slot while sitting Lok Insaaf Party MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains, who had then contested as an independent, had stood fourth.
The Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat constitutes of nine assembly segments – Ludhiana north, south, east, west, central, Atam Nagar, Gill, Dakha and Jagraon – and is a mix of urban and rural segments. An assessment of the 2014 Lok Sabha election result shows that Phoolka was clear winner in four of nine assembly segments – Jagraon, Dakha, Ludhiana west and Gill – while Bittu could secure only three – Ludhiana North, central and east.
Phoolka had secured more votes than the SAD candidate Manpreet Singh Ayali in Akali stronghold rural segments of Dakha and Jagraon. Ayali was then the sitting Dakha MLA. The other two segments – Atam Nagar and Ludhiana south – the stronghold of the Bains brothers were won by Simarjeet Singh Bains.
Later, Phoolka went on to win Dakha assembly seat in Assembly polls 2017 defeating SAD’s Ayali. With Phoolka’s resignation, first as Dakha MLA protesting against Bargari sacrilege (yet to be accepted by the Assembly Speaker) and later from party membership and active politics, the AAP unit in Ludhiana is now facing a crisis of lack of a credible and prominent face to bank upon in the polls scheduled for May 19.
AAP’s debacle in Ludhiana (urban) began with the assembly election in 2017 when it contested polls in alliance with the Bains brothers’ Lok Insaaf Party (LIP). The AAP-LIP alliance had contested six urban constituencies of Ludhiana and could win only two. AAP lost from Ludhiana east and Ludhiana west. The LIP lost Ludhiana north and central. However, Bains brothers – Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Bains- won their respective seats – Atam Nagar and Ludhiana south. The AAP rout in Ludhiana urban only deepened in Municipal Corporation polls where it managed only one seat in the 95-member House while it’s ally LIP won seven. Soon, the alliance was called off by Bains brothers after AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal offered an “apology” to SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia.
From the high of 2014, the AAP seems to have hit a big low with sources in the party claiming that the leadership is still in the search mode. While finding someone of the stature of Phoolka is a far cry, it is even difficult to get a strong face from the local leadership to contest from Ludhiana, they said.
Sources said that party’s Ludhiana district president Daljit Singh Grewal Bhola, one of the probables for the party ticket, has already refused to contest. His wife Balwinder Kaur is the only AAP councillor in the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation. While no final decision yet for Ludhiana, some of the probables in fray for the ticket include Suresh Goyal, a chartered accountant and current president of party’s Ludhiana central segment; Bibi Rajinder Kaur, president of Malwa Zone-2 women’s wing; Amrinder Singh Sunny Jassowal, grandson of former Congress MLA Jagdev Singh Jassowal & president of party’s youth wing of Ludhiana, and Gurjeet Singh Gill, Malwa zone-2 Kisan wing president.
“None them are close to what Phoolka’s candidature had given to AAP in Ludhiana in 2014. It was anybody’s game till last round of counting because more than the AAP wave, it was his stature that got people to vote for him. This time, even our local leaders have refused to contest and names have not even been shortlisted,” a senior party leader said, requesting not to be named.
Sources further said that the name of CA Suresh Goyal, who lives in Mullanpur but has his office in Ludhiana city, is being given serious thoughts and he might get the ticket if no other stronger face emerges. “He had also campaigned for Phoolka in 2014 and is an old party soldier. He is associated with AAP since early days,” said the party leader.
Darshan Singh Shankar, the spokesperson of the party, meanwhile said, “We are trying our best to get a strong candidate for Ludhiana. Nothing is final yet. Of course, no one can fill Phoolka’s shoes but we are trying our best.”
While Bittu is expected to contest again on Congress ticket, the SAD is considering names of leaders including Sahnewal MLA Sharanjit Singh Dhillon and former minister Maheshinder Singh Grewal. MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains is expected to contest from LIP under PDA.