New Delhi: Arvind Kejriwal appears to have made up his mind to vacate the Delhi chief minister's chair, install his deputy Manish Sisodia and focus on Punjab, Aam Aadmi Party sources have said.
Punjab goes to polls in early 2017 and many in the AAP feel that the party stands a good chance to gain power in the state if it contests the elections under Kejriwal's leadership, sources said.
Kejriwal is the chief minister of Delhi but he does not hold any portfolio - the only chief minister in the country without a berth. All the key portfolios, including finance, education, planning and urban development, are held by deputy chief minister Sisodia.
The AAP boss had prompted suggestions that he might hand over the Delhi mantle to his trusted lieutenant Sisodia when he chose not to take any specific portfolio.
The hunt for a constituency for Kejriwal has already been launched in Punjab, according to party insiders. Kejriwal is scheduled to address the first pre-poll rally of the party in the state on January 14.
What, however, appears to have accelerated the decision to try his luck in Punjab is the drubbing the BJP suffered in Bihar. Kejriwal feels that the stock of Narendra Modi has started to fall. An impressive performance by the AAP in Punjab will turn Kerjiwal into a key anti-BJP and anti-Congress leader, the sources added.
They said that Kejriwal had sounded out Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee on his plans and both the leaders have suggested that he give it a try.
"Anyway, if we fail in Punjab, Kejriwal can return as Delhi chief minister," said an AAP leader.
Apart from Delhi, AAP has a good support base in Punjab. All the four MPs of the party hail from Punjab and its leaders feel that public opinion has turned against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is ruling the state in alliance with the BJP.
"Our main rival in the state is the Congress. But we stand a good chance if Arvind Kejriwal is projected as chief minister," said an AAP leader. The Congress has decided to project its most popular leader, Amarinder Singh, who defeated Arun Jaitley in the Lok Sabha polls.
After the poor performance in the general election, in which the AAP had tried to spread its reach across the country, the party had decided to consolidate in Delhi. This had prompted the party to opt out of the Haryana elections, just after the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The party now feels that its foundation is strong in Delhi with very little opposition from the marginalised BJP and the Congress. The BJP has just three members in the 70-member Delhi Assembly and the Congress none.
In Punjab, the prospects are bright, given the raging anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP government, AAP leaders said. The state has a high Dalit population and the party is aggressively courting this vote base.
Moreover, there are reports of deep factionalism in the Punjab unit of the AAP, which can be addressed if Kejriwal takes the command himself.
A section in the AAP, however, is against Kejriwal quitting Delhi. "It will be disastrous. We will lose Delhi and also Punjab. How can a non-Sikh from Haryana dream of becoming the CM of Punjab," wondered an AAP leader.
But another leader pointed out that until Kerjiwal proved his mettle in the Delhi elections, few thought that he would be where he is today.