It may still be a good five months to the crucial assembly elections in Punjab but the state is already witnessing “party time” of a different kind.
With the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the state, the assembly elections were clearly headed for a triangular contest with the new challenger pitted against traditional political rivals — the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress.
But events of the past fortnight have resulted in an unexpected churn — a fourth front has been launched, and a fifth could be in the offing.
First, it was cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu who, after feverish speculation about his joining AAP or even the Congress, floated a new political outfit — ‘Awaaz-e-Punjab’ (Voice of Punjab).
Sidhu launched the new outfit with three sitting Punjab lawmakers — former Indian hockey team captain and Olympian Pargat Singh, who is a sitting Akali Dal legislator, and two independent legislators from Ludhiana, Simarjit Bains and Balwinder Bains.
With Awaaz-e-Punjab planning to pitch itself as an independent political force in the coming assembly polls, the Punjab voters — long used to picking between the SAD and the Congress — will be faced with the rather unique dilemma of a wider choice.
Interestingly, even as they announced the new party, both Sidhu and Pargat continue to have one foot firmly in their respective parties. While Sidhu, who quit as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha in July, is still a member of the BJP, Pargat remains a part of the Akali Dal. The Bains brothers, who are politically well-entrenched in Ludhiana district, had fallen out with the Akali Dal three years ago.
That leaves the AAP — which is grappling with internal disorder in the Punjab unit after it recently sacked its state chief Sucha Singh Chhotepur in a rather humiliating manner — to fend for itself with a leader who could be its political face, and even the chief ministerial candidate, for the assembly polls.
The appointment of comedian-turned-politician Gurpreet Ghuggi, who had joined AAP in February, as the new Punjab convener to replace Chhotepur is being seen by some as “a political joke”.
Nearly half of the AAP leadership in Punjab’s 21 districts are up in arms against the party’s central leadership — Arvind Kejriwal, Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak — over Chhotepur’s sacking and the way tickets are being distributed for various constituencies.
Chhotepur, who has rebelled against the party leadership after his unceremonious exit as Punjab unit chief, has made it clear that he will “expose” the AAP central leadership. Despite the open war of words, Chhotepur still continues to officially be part of AAP.
But with his exit from AAP looking imminent, Chhotepur may opt for a new political front or join hands with Awaaz-e-Punjab.
The rancour within the AAP and other groups is being keenly watched by the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress. Will the actions of the AAP leaders, which some describe as self-goals, result in the new party in Punjab losing the political traction it seemed to have gained over the past few months? An answer is awaited.