In Punjab Face-Off, AAP Seems To Have Fallen Into A Congress Trap

(This article by me first appeared in HuffPost India on 18 April 2016.)

Did the Aam Aam Party yesterday fall into the trap of giving the Congress what it wants: moving the political discourse from everything else to the persona of Congress leader Amarinder Singh?

Leaders of the AAP, including Arvind Kejriwal himself, had a field day on Twitter; pointing out that Rahul Gandhi had refused to name Amarinder Singh as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the Punjab assembly elections.

On Saturday, 16 April, the Congress vice president held an interaction with Congress leaders and workers on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Congress workers persuaded him to declare Singh as the CM candidate. When journalists asked him about this, Gandhi replied that while the Captain was the face of the campaign by virtue of being the sate Congress chief, the chief minister would be elected by the MLAs after the election.

In saying so, he seemed to be going back on what he had suggested in his previous visit to Punjab. In his visit in March, Gandhi had said the next Punjab government would be formed under the leadership of Singh.

So when on Saturday, Gandhi appeared to retract the declaration, it seemed like an embarrassment for the Punjab Congress, and for Amarinder’s campaign strategist Prashant Kishor, who had already begun projecting Amarinder as ‘Punjab da Captain’ in a presidential-style campaign.

However, it emerges that this was part of a well-orchestrated move to create a fresh controversy around the CM candidature issue, so that another day passes by with Punjab’s political discussion centred on the persona of Singh.

The media was suitably alerted about the event, even given hints that Amarinder Singh might be announced as the CM candidate. Gandhi deliberately gave a vague reply that would create a confusion, and would be picked up by the media and opposition.

Since not having a chief ministerial candidate is the AAP’s Achilles’ heel in Punjab, their asking questions on Singh’s candidature for the post makes them fall into the trap of turning this – the CM candidate question – more important than other political questions. The other political questions – such as Punjab’s drug menace or corruption or farm distress – are where the AAP as of now is seen as a more credible answer than the Congress.

The Aam Aadmi Party had until recently been focusing on projecting itself as the party that can solve Punjab’s problems, but it now seems to have fallen into the trap of shifting the political conversation to ‘who will be the CM?’

The AAP may be jumping to conclusions too early. Within the next few weeks, sources say, the Congress is likely to make a formal announcement in Delhi, declaring Singh as the party’s official chief ministerial candidate for the February 2017 polls. “The announcement will be made in such a way as befits a chief ministerial candidate. It can’t be made in response to a question,” said a source familiar with the strategy.

Until such announcement is made, the Captain is meeting NRI Sikhs in the US. While he does that, the state Congress and Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee are likely to intensify the “Punjab da Captain” campaign.

Kejriwal recently said in an interview with the Economic Times that his party would not declare any CM candidate for Punjab, and that the issue has not even been discussed in the party.

However, his colleague Sanjay Singh recently told the same newspaper that the party was planning to announce a CM candidate in 3-4 months and it won’t be Kejriwal.

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