The trouble for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi following chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest in an excise policy-linked money laundering case will have a ripple effect in Punjab.

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann speaks to the media on the arrest of Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged irregularity in the now-scrapped liquor policy scam, outside the CM’s residence, in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI)

With no senior top-rung leadership at the national level in the absence of Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh, both under arrest in the excise case, the present situation appears set to pitchfork Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, who along with Kejriwal had campaigned in state elections, as the sole spearhead of the party campaign in the parliamentary elections if the AAP national convener doesn’t come out of jail soon. The Kejriwal-Mann duo had led the party’s campaign in the elections in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and other states in the past two years, travelling together most of the time.

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Mann not only enjoys Kejriwal’s confidence but also has the gift of oratory. Of the 22 Lok Sabha seats being contested by the AAP, 13 are in Punjab where Kejriwal had recently declared Mann as the face of the party’s poll campaign with the slogan – Sansad ch vee Bhagwant Mann, Khushaal Punjab te vadhegi shaan (With Bhagwant Mann in Parliament as well, Punjab will be happy and prosperous). The catchphrase was on the lines of a similar slogan – Sansad mein bhi Kejriwal, tabhee Dilli hogi aur khushaal – launched by the AAP earlier in Delhi.

The party, which has been left with the monumental challenge of sustaining its election campaign, is contesting four parliamentary seats in Delhi, two in Gujarat, two in Assam, and one in Haryana. Kejriwal was to be the main campaigner for the party in all these states. While the party is going it alone in Punjab, it has an alliance with Congress in other states. Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science at Panjab University, Chandigarh, said that Mann will have twin responsibilities of leading the election campaign in Punjab and Delhi and keeping the AAP flock together. “If he (Kejriwal) remains in jail, he won’t be able to canvass for the party, but would be the face of the campaign,” he said.

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Dent in anti-corruption credentials

Another challenge posed by Kejriwal’s arrest is its impact on the anti-corruption credentials of the Punjab government. The central theme of the AAP’s election campaign in the state was the promise to eradicate corruption as it tapped into public anger against Congress and SAD. Mann, on coming to power, started the anti-graft drive from the get-go. The vigilance bureau has arrested more than 600 people, including over a dozen senior politicians and bureaucrats, in two years. Another 100 inquiries are going on against leaders of the opposition parties.

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With Mann never missing any opportunity to target the rival parties over corruption, it was being seen as the ruling party’s trump card for the Lok Sabha elections. However, the allegations of corruption against the AAP top brass have cast a long shadow over its credentials and given the opposition parties, which have been crying ‘political vendetta’, ammunition to attack the party, including Kejriwal, who was active in the state in the past four months. During his frequent visits to the state, the AAP chief had inaugurated all major initiatives of the state government. Guru Nanak Dev University’s political science department head Professor Jagroop Singh said these are difficult times for AAP in Punjab. “Who is there after Kejriwal who can keep the organisation going and the party together? There will be questions over the excise policy of Punjab,” he said.

Unease over ED case

There is unease in the state AAP after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) action in the Delhi excise policy case due to allegations from time to time that Punjab’s policy was similar to the one in the national capital. In 2022, the ED had questioned three state officers who were part of the team that framed the excise policy of Punjab. Though the state authorities have repeatedly said that the excise policy has sent the revenue soaring in the last two years, there is worry that the ED might expand the ambit of its probe to the state. Punjab BJP president Sunil Jakhar on Friday claimed that the state’s excise policy was tailored in line with the one in Delhi. “A party delegation will approach the Election Commission and seek an ED probe into Punjab’s excise policy,” he said. However, finance and taxation minister Harpal Singh Cheema said they could get the probe done by any agency. “It is a good policy. Punjab’s revenue from excise duties has gone up from 6,000 crore to 10,000 crore in just two years. The liquor mafia has been finished off in the state,” he said, alleging that ED and CBI threats are being given to protect the mafia.


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