Chandigarh: Amid rumblings of an impending implosion within the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Punjab unit over declaring Bhagwant Mann as the chief ministerial candidate in the assembly polls next year, Mann is expected to meet with AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal to “sort out ” the matter, ThePrint has learnt.
Mann has been in Delhi since Wednesday, waiting to meet Kejriwal after the latter returned to the national capital from a 10-day vipasana break, sources told ThePrint.
Sources added that a meeting was expected to be held Thursday, but was cancelled as AAP MP Sanjay Singh, whom Kejriwal wanted to be present during the meeting, was in Uttar Pradesh.
On Tuesday, Mann had announced on his Facebook page that he will be in Delhi from 8 September to attend parliamentary committee meetings.
While Mann has openly shown his desire to be named the CM candidate, sources in the party told ThePrint that the Sangrur MP is not the first choice of the party to be projected as the CM candidate despite being the state unit’s president.
Moreover, Mann has already been offered the post of the deputy CM but the jury is still out on who will lead the party, said sources.
The name of a retired Sikh civil servant is under “serious consideration” but nothing has been finalised yet, a senior party member said on condition of anonymity.
In the past 10 days, some AAP MLAs and party volunteers have pushed the party high command to declare Mann as a CM candidate, a demand endorsed by Mann himself. He has been holding huge darbars of his supporters and party volunteers outside his residence.
ਲੋਕਾਂ ਦਾ ਪਿਆਰ ਸਤਿਕਾਰ …ਜਿਸਦਾ ਕਿਸੇ ਕਰੰਸੀ ਚ ਕੋਈ ਮੁੱਲ ਨਹੀਂ ..luv u all pic.twitter.com/cLpdyxBMCV
— Bhagwant Mann (@BhagwantMann) September 3, 2021
What Mann’s supporters say
Speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity, a close aide of Mann said, “The party high command needs to realise that they will have to choose a popular leader from Punjab as their CM candidate. Mann fits the bill. He is hugely popular and has a local connect.”
He added that AAP leaders in Delhi have seen the result of running the party using outsiders, which led to a “fiasco”, referring to the abysmal defeat in the 2017 assembly polls.
Mann’s supporters also say that elections in states cannot be won by projecting Kejriwal as the only face of AAP.
“In 2017 our slogan was, “Kejriwal, saara Punjab tere naal (the whole of Punjab is with Kejriwal), while that of the Congress was, Chahnda hai Punjab Captain di sarkaar (Punjab wants Captain Amarinder Singh’s government). Had the Congress slogan been, Chahnda hai Punjab Sonia dee sarkaar (Punjab wants Sonia Gandhi’s government) would it have worked? No. People in Punjab connect with local leaders, not Kejriwal in Delhi,” added the aide quoted above.
Mann lacks administration capabilities, party believes
The AAP leadership in Delhi has its reservations about Mann.
“The party high command looks upon Mann as a popular crowd puller but lacking in administrative capabilities and seriousness. The party also feels that while Mann has now been the state president for a few years, he has failed to strengthen the party in Punjab which is now a pale shadow of its 2016 avatar,” said a senior AAP leader who didn’t wish to be named.
“Yet another reason why Mann’s claim to the CM candidate is expected to be rejected is that his mass popularity is limited to Malwa, with little or no impact on Doaba or Majha,” the leader said.
ThePrint reached Raghav Chadha and Jarnail Singh, who are looking after the party affairs in Punjab, via calls and texts but there was no response until the publishing of this report.
Assurance of deputy CM chair
Mann has the support of at least half a dozen out of the 12 active AAP MLAs in Punjab. Rupinder Ruby, MLA from Bathinda Rural, and Kulwant Singh Pandori, MLA from Mehal Kalan, were the first to openly support him. The others are Aman Arora, Kultar Singh Sandhawan, Amarjeet Singh Sandoa, Manjit Singh Bilaspur and Meet Hayer.
Some others are on the fence. “Whatever decision will be taken by the party high command will be with the concurrence of Mann. He is the party president and his view will be taken in the matter,” said Budh Ram, AAP MLA from Budhlada.
“There is no doubt that the elections will be fought with a CM candidate. But who it will be is for the party high command to decide. No one is above the party and rules laid down by the party are same for everyone,” said Talwandi Sabo MLA Baljinder Kaur.
Sources close to Mann add that he has been assured of the post of the deputy CM.
“In January, when talks were going on about (Congress leader) Navjot Sidhu joining (AAP), Mann was asked if he could make way for him and be his deputy since the post of the CM was to be offered to him. To which Mann agreed. But that was only for Sidhu. The party high command, however, very cleverly relegated Mann to the position of the deputy CM for every other possible CM candidate,” said another aide of Mann.
Mann’s supporters also dismiss the efforts being made by the party leaders in Delhi to find a suitable CM candidate.
“The Delhi leadership has gone full circle. They considered Balbir Singh Seechewal (water conservation activist), Balbir Singh Rajewal (farmer leader), S.P.S. Oberoi (Dubai-based philanthropist), Adaish Partap Singh Kairon (son of former CM Partap Singh Kairon and son in law of Parkash Singh Badal) and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsasl (Akali MP in Rajya Sabha, now rebel). Now we are told that a Sikh bureaucrat but of a cadre outside Punjab is under serious consideration,” said a party leader.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)