New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) nominees for the upcoming Rajya Sabha (RS) elections are a mix of personalities from different walks of life.
Former international cricketer Harbhajan Singh, joint in-charge of the party’s Punjab unit Raghav Chadha, AAP election strategist Sandeep Pathak, Lovely Professional University founder Ashok Mittal and Ludhiana-based businessman Sanjeev Arora are the five names announced by the party Monday.
Polls for 13 Rajya Sabha seats — two from Assam, one from Himachal Pradesh, three from Kerala, one from Nagaland, one from Tripura and five from Punjab — are scheduled to be held on 31 March, and according to a senior party functionary, the AAP brass had been in touch with Harbhajan Singh for a while for his possible nomination.
According to a statement issued by the party, the former India off-spinner was picked for his credentials as a sports icon, Pathak for his skills as a political strategist, Arora and Mittal for their social work and leadership qualities, and Raghav Chadha for being a “youth icon”.
AAP’s announcement of the five names has, however, caused discontent among sections of the party’s Punjab unit, ThePrint has learnt. Some leaders claim that most of the candidates are outsiders who were not involved in building the party in the state.
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Making the cut
Soon after announcing his retirement from all forms of competitive cricket in December 2021, Harbhajan Singh had reportedly said that he was open to the idea of serving the people of Punjab through politics.
However, the former off-spinner seemed to be sending mixed signals when it came to his possible choice of party. While he was seen with former Punjab Congress Chief Navjot Singh Sidhu — also a former cricketer — in a photograph posted by the latter on social media on 15 December, there was also buzz about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to induct Singh into the party ahead of the 2022 assembly elections.
The AAP too had been in talks with him, according to the senior party functionary quoted above. “After he (Singh) was approached again post-10 March (the day of assembly election results declaration and AAP victory), he agreed,” the senior AAP functionary said.
Meanwhile, Pathak, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, has spent most of the past three years in Punjab, preparing the party for the just-held 2022 assembly elections in the state.
During these years, he traversed the state multiple times conducting surveys for AAP, rebuilding its state unit — which had been fractured in the years following the 2017 assembly elections — restructuring the party’s organisational cadre, and chalking out strategies as Punjab headed towards the 20 February polls, a second senior AAP functionary, who is close to Pathak, told ThePrint.
When results for the 2022 Punjab assembly elections were announced earlier this month, AAP scored a thumping victory — winning 92 out of 117 assembly seats. Many in the party credited Pathak for the victory, tagging him the “Chanakya” (a reference to the ancient Indian strategist and royal advisor) of AAP.
AAP chief spokesperson and Delhi MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj too had praised him in a tweet after the party’s Punjab polls victory, describing him as “very grounded, sensible and methodical”.
I agree 100%. Dr Sandeep Pathak carries an impeccable reputation of managing 2020 elections in Delhi & 2022 elections in Punjab.
Very grounded, sensible and methodical.
CM Arvind Kejriwal’s find. https://t.co/YW46pheLaz
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) March 21, 2022
The other three
AAP member Chadha is a chartered accountant by profession, who has come a long way from his early days in politics during the India Against Corruption movement in 2011. A member of the Delhi assembly, in December 2020, Chadha — who is believed to be close to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal — was appointed joint party in-charge of Punjab. The idea, according to the second AAP leader quoted above, was to add a Hindu face, alongside that of the other AAP Punjab joint in-charge, Jarnail Singh, who is a Jatt Sikh.
Ahead of the Punjab assembly elections, Chadha handled a range of responsibilities, and was involved in a lot of things like campaign planning and ticket distribution, added the leader.
The 33-year-old will be the youngest current Rajya Sabha member, according to official records. Presently, 39-year-old reputed boxer Mary Kom — a member nominated by the President — is the youngest in the upper house.
“I am grateful and humbled by the faith and trust reposed in me by my leader, my mentor Arvind Kejriwal and my elder brother Bhagwant Mann. I pray that God blesses me with the strength and ability to meet the party’s expectations with utmost integrity and sincerity,” Chadha told the press in Chandigarh Monday.
According to a statement released by AAP Monday, Arora is a businessman with a “successful export house” in Ludhiana. He is also described as a philanthropist, who runs the Krishna Pran Breast Cancer Care Charitable Trust (which has its head office in Ludhiana), which has treated “more than 160 cancer patients for free” in the past 15 years. The statement added that Arora is on the governing board of a medical college and a member of the council of the Punjab Cricket Association.
The AAP statement introduced Mittal as “a celebrated academic reformer, social activist and philanthropist” who is also the founder-chancellor of the Lovely Professional University — a prominent private university based in Punjab. It further mentioned Mittal’s credentials as an “automotive entrepreneur”, and how his “professional experience and service” to the people of Punjab makes him one of the most “accomplished individual” in the state.
The announcement has caused some discontent among sections of the AAP’s Punjab unit, as mentioned above.
“We had strong hopes that some of the people from Punjab, who actually helped set up and rebuild the party in the state in the past few years, would make it to the list. Some of them could have been district-level senior functionaries. But most of the chosen ones are outsiders who did not have any role in building the party in Punjab. That has led to disappointment,” said a third senior AAP leader, based in Punjab.
Another leader of the AAP’s Punjab unit said Monday’s announcement reminded him of a previous controversy concerning AAP’s nomination for Rajya Sabha seats from Delhi.
In January 2018, AAP had nominated senior party leader Sanjay Singh, chartered accountant N.D. Gupta and businessman Sushil Gupta as members for the Rajya Sabha from the national capital.
The choice had triggered a war of words between AAP founding member Kumar Vishwas and other senior leaders of the party. While Vishwas had expected to be nominated, the choice of the latter two had raised questions over whether it had been influenced by financial challenges confronting the party.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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