Punjab: AAP keen on welcoming dissident Navjot Singh Sidhu
The Aam Aadmi Party is keen on welcoming dissident Punjab Congressman Navjot Singh Sidhu to its fold. But the party, which leads the Opposition in the state, is also content with merely watching the motormouth former cricketer damage prospects of the ruling Congress.
AAP’s national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday visited Punjab and declared that the party’s chief ministerial candidate would be a Sikh, while evading a question on Sidhu joining the AAP. He also inducted a former IPS officer into the party and met dissident Akali and BJP leaders.
A Twitter handle seen as a party mouthpiece tweeted a screenshot of Sidhu following Kejriwal’s online media conference.
An AAP source told The Telegraph: “We hope to attract Sidhu by next year, just before the polls. After (AAP rebel MLA Sukhpal) Khaira returned to the Congress (earlier this month), Sidhu has competition within the Congress. We hope to be a catalyst to their fight, which would encourage Sidhu to leave the Congress. Even if he forms his own party, we will support him.”
Sidhu and chief minister Amarinder Singh were in Delhi on Tuesday for mediation by the Congress high command. Amarinder has alleged that Sidhu is joining the AAP — a charge he has denied.
The AAP has never attacked Sidhu even after failed talks with him to join the party after he quit the BJP in 2016.
Former AAP leader and senior journalist Ashutosh dismissed speculation of Sidhu joining the AAP. “I don’t think it is a possibility as Arvind can’t handle Sidhu. He (Arvind) will not do an experiment like this.… One can’t predict what Sidhu will say or do,” he told this newspaper.
“He left the 1996 England tour, saying the team management did not treat him well. After quitting the BJP, he once held talks till 5am with the AAP before the 2017 polls but eventually joined the Congress. Had he remained within the Congress without these outbursts, he would have been an ideal chief ministerial candidate the next time.
“If he joins the AAP he may well take away the entire state unit with him if he splits. Arvind’s warm responses to queries on Sidhu are probably an attempt to create confusion for the Congress,” he said.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the Shiromani Akali Dal faced anti-incumbency of a decade and got 25.24 per cent of the total vote share and 15 out of 117 seats. The AAP got 23.72 per cent and 20 seats.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Akalis got 27.45 per cent votes in the state and won two out of 13 seats. The AAP polled 7.38 per cent and won a single seat.
The Akalis were aligned with the BJP in both elections. This time it has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) instead and said it will make a Dalit deputy chief minister if it wins.
“At their worst anti-incumbency, the Akalis did better than the AAP. The AAP has only lost votes. They don’t have a social bloc, a chief ministerial candidate or party structure and they are faction-ridden. They can’t convert the sympathy they had to votes.… AAP needs to find a leader,” the former AAP leader and journalist added.Veteran columnist and professor of political science at Panjab University, Ashutosh Kumar, explained that Sidhu is the AAP’s necessity and the party could bear his quirks for its own survival.
“This crisis in the Congress is a godsend for the AAP... which seeks to gain the disgruntled Akali vote bank of landed Jat Sikhs (a community that Sidhu also belongs to), that is leading the farm agitation and is looking for an alternative,” he said.
“Kejriwal shunned Sidhu in 2017 because of his tendency for autonomy. But right now, he could be a trump card for the AAP that has suffered many splits, here. Remember, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were removed from the AAP only after the 2015 Delhi assembly polls. The party can manage Sidhu too,” Kumar added.