Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. He essentially does not trust anyone, and Kejriwal is clear that no one can stand taller than him in the AAP. Image Credit: ANI

Arvind Kejriwal — Super chief minister of Punjab

Raghav Chaddha — acting CM of Punjab

Bhagwant Singh Mann — showpiece CM of Punjab

WhatsApp, a reliable indicator of what is bothering the chattering classes in India, is lit with this ditty. It comes after Raghav Chadda, Rajya Sabha member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was appointed to head the temporary advisory committee to advise the Punjab chief minister on matters of national importance.

The opposition immediately dubbed the move as Chaddha running Punjab via Delhi — something Punjab has historically fought. But, the resentment has been brewing with the optics of AAP founder Kejriwal being Mann’s super boss. One picture, which went viral, shows Mann hanging from an open vehicle while Kejriwal is smugly perched in the middle, seemingly the boss of all he surveys.

The genesis of this controversy is rooted in AAP’s beginnings. AAP, India’s only successful political startup, was birthed in Delhi, which is not a full state: executive control of the police remains with the lieutenant governor, which means the federal home ministry.

Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann embraces Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during his wedding ceremony, in Chandigarh on July 7, 2022. Since he couldn’t become the Punjab chief minister, Kejriwal does the back-seat driving via Chaddha. Image Credit: ANI

As Delhi chief minister, Kejriwal controls only half a state in reality. By temperament, he is a power maximalist and rules the AAP with an iron fist. It was evident in the earlier iteration of the AAP when Kejriwal humiliated and threw out leading crusader of public causes Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the AAP. Kumar Vishwas, a well-known Hindi poet with a large following, was also sidelined and humiliated till he left the party after heaping abuse on Kejriwal.

Kejriwal essentially does not trust anyone, and he is clear that no one can stand taller than him in the AAP.

Since he couldn’t become the Punjab chief minister, Kejriwal now does all the back-seat driving via Chaddha. At one point, speculation was rife that he would hand over Delhi to loyalist Manish Sisodia and move to Punjab. This idea was dropped when outrage ensued in Delhi and Punjab.

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Four months after electing AAP, Punjab appears disenchanted, paving the way for the election of Simranjit Singh Mann in the Lok Sabha seat of Sangrur. Mann is a proponent of Khalistan, an independent state for the Sikhs. Earlier, Kejriwal had been accused of soft-peddling separatist support for the AAP. Punjab is a critical border state, and no one in India wants a replay of the terrible separatist movement that led to a siege of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for the Sikhs and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

So while a sense of disappointment hangs over Punjab, a state that desperately needs good governance, Kejriwal, who is campaigning all over the country to mop up the Congress vote, needs to stop trying to steer the Mann government by remote control.

Kejriwal is keen to grow his startup with a strategy of hoovering up the votes of an enfeebled Congress as he did in Delhi. The AAP plans to contest the Gujarat and Himachal elections. Much like the founder of any unicorn startup, Kejriwal needs to learn how to distribute power if the AAP has to grow.