Punjab election 2017: Kejriwal as CM? Sisodia hint reveals AAP is confident of its chances

The hue and cry over Arvind Kejriwal's Punjab ambitions is frankly, a little surprising. Ever since Aam Aadmi Party had made clear its plan to fight the Punjab elections, its supremo has dropped enough hints that he doesn't want to remain confined within the boundaries of Delhi as a glorified mayor and would rather be in charge of a state where he doesn't have to be subjected to a power-sharing arrangement with the centre.

Deeply ambitious that he is, Kejriwal's Punjab move will just be the next logical step to his eventual target of assuming the Prime Minister's Office. It, therefore, doesn't remain for Manish Sisodia to reveal what must rank among the world's worst-kept secret. Addressing the voters during a public rally in Mohali ahead of the 4 February elections, Sisodia said that people of Punjab should cast their votes "assuming" Kejriwal is their chief minister.

 Punjab election 2017: Kejriwal as CM? Sisodia hint reveals AAP is confident of its chances

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

"Ye samajh ke vote do ki aap Arvind Kejriwal ko vote de rahe ho. Aapka vote Kejriwal ke naam pe hai, (Vote for us thinking that you are voting for Kejriwal)", said Sisodia. Later, during a brief interaction with the media, he reiterated the suggestion, adding as an afterthought that "party MLAs will decide when the time comes".

Sisodia's statement, where he kept just enough space for plausible deniability, has given rise to furious speculation in media. The Opposition was quick to react, terming this as yet another proof of Kejriwal's "treachery" because on multiple occasions, the AAP chief had rebutted suggestions that he is in the race for chief minister's post and at times been at pains to point out that he wasn't interested in fighting for the chief minister's chair.

The latest such instance was on 29 December when challenged by Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh who dared the AAP chief to contest against him from "any seat of his choice", Kejriwal had tweeted that he isn't interested in fighting Punjab elections.

Sisodia's suggestion was naturally taken up as a loose full toss by the Opposition who saw an opportunity to score some easy runs. Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal posted a series of tweets ripping Kejriwal's "U-Turn" to shreds.

Captain Singh was quick to follow. The Congress leader who had earlier asked Kejriwal to come clean on his ambition called the AAP chief a "sneaky little fellow".

Beyond the frequent U-turns and the game of smoke and mirrors which is the hallmark of Kejriwal's politics, there is no reason why he won't move to Punjab. AAP had no doubt won the Delhi elections with a promise of "paanch saal Kejriwal", but this will hardly come as a surprise for the battle-weary Delhiites who have now grown accustomed to the AAP chief's unpredictable ways. In any case, they must have got an inkling of their chief minister's 'grand plans' when Sisodia was installed as "deputy chief minister" to manage a city-state.

The move does nothing to dispel Kejriwal's "bhagoda" image which will surely now be played up by the Opposition but the AAP chief is well within his legal and moral rights to present himself as the chief ministerial candidate should his party win.

The real question, however, must lie with the timing of Sisodia's hint. AAP couldn't have been innocent to the speculation this statement might trigger. They must have already taken into account that this statement (though ambiguous) provides the Opposition with a timely opportunity to play the regionalism card.

The Akali Dal and the Congress wasted no time in painting Kejriwal as the "greedy outsider" in a rerun of Nitish Kumar's Bihari vs Bahari slogan.

The timing of Sisodia's hint, therefore, may mean two things. One, AAP is taking the opinion polls seriously and is confident of its chances in Punjab, so much so that it feels there is no need now to keep the chief ministerial question hanging in balance. This would indicate that the party no longer feels tied down by compulsions of identity politics and believes the revolt of state unit over the unsavoury exit of state convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur is a thing of the past. This is the best case scenario for AAP.

The other possibility is that the party still feels that it is short on local talent despite candidates such as Bhagwant Mann and was trying to cash in on Kejriwal's political capital. It remains to be seen how it manages the perception battle from here.

Updated Date: Jan 10, 2017 21:24:28 IST