The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entered the 2017 elections with a lot of hype but ended up with a subpar performance, following which the party saw a string of desertions and exits. Now, with days left for the Assembly elections, AAP seems to have got its act together and is now back in the reckoning.
While the turnaround is being attributed to deep divisions within the ruling Congress, the failure of the Shiromani Akali Dal to rebuild itself post the 2017 poll debacle, and the desire for change among the public — all of which have ended up making the AAP look good — the party has also worked to claw its way back.
Over the last five years, AAP had been hit by bitter infighting, following which its ground-level cadre depleted in strength. Having entered the Punjab Vidhan Sabha with 20 MLAs, the party is now left with barely half the numbers after several MLAs quit the party to join the Congress in rapid succession. While the party still has 17 MLAs to its name in the Assembly, this figure is misleading since those who have switched loyalties to the Congress continue to occupy AAP benches.
AAP has also seen changes in its leadership in the Vidhan Sabha, with Supreme Court advocate H S Phoolka being initially appointed as Leader of Opposition, followed by Sukhpal Singh Khaira and now Harpal Singh Cheema. However, despite the divisions within the party, over the last couple of years, Cheema has managed to provide much-needed leadership in the Assembly, aided by Sunam MLA Aman Arora and Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan.
The party leadership has also had to put in a lot of effort to rebuild the cadre that drifted away after the 2017 poll results. While many predicted the party to win around 100 seats in 2017, AAP managed to win only 20, with majority of the seats (18) coming from Malwa region and two from Doaba. The party failed to open its account in the Majha region.
The slide in AAP’s popularity continued in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with the party retaining only one of its four seats — that of its state president Bhagwant Mann. The results were equally dismal in local body polls.
However, the last one year has seen hectic rebuilding efforts in the party, including a more fine-tuned approach to appointing office bearers. While Delhi MLA Jarnail Singh was appointed state in-charge by the national leadership, this was soon followed by the appointment of Raghav Chadha, also a Delhi MLA, as the state co-incharge.
Chadha, who has been leading the rebuilding exercise, has on numerous occasions said that the AAP will fare much better in Majha region than it did in 2017. The party has announced 109 candidates for the 117 Assembly seats.
Speaking to the media on Sunday, Chadha pointed to the infighting in the Congress to say why Punjab needs to vote for AAP. “Channi does not get along with Sidhu, Jakhar does not get along with Channi and Sidhu, Sukhjinder Randhawa does not get along with Sidhu, Rana Gurjit does not get along with Randhawa, Bharat Bhushan Ashu does not get along with Sidhu and vice versa while Bittu does not get along with Sidhu,” he said.
The AAP’s surprise performance in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls, when the party ended up in 14 wards, more than the BJP (12), Congress (8) and Akali Dal (1) — has come as a morale booster for the party.
With AAP sources saying Bhagwant Mann will be the CM face of the party, the Sangrur MP is now back in action after a period of intense sulking, reportedly over not being named as the CM face.
“There are those who will try to polarise the environment in Punjab but we should not fall into their hands. Our party will come into power in March and no one in the state will have to climb towers to protest or to sit on dharnas to ask for their rights,” Mann said on Sunday.