NEW DELHI: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal, who is going all out to win the electoral battle in Punjab, on Tuesday sprang a surprise as he heaped praise on state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu even as he slammed chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi.
Ironically for the AAP, some months back, Channi was “a poor son” and Sidhu was the “Rakhi Sawant of politics” whose concerns for farmers was a “news stunt.”
So, Kejriwal’s sudden ‘Sidhu praise’ could well be a calculated ploy by the AAP leader to deepen the Congress divide as the political landscape in Punjab has changed significantly in the last couple of months.
With the withdrawal of farm bills, PM Modi has paved the way for BJP's tie up with former chief minister Amarinder Singh, and possibly also the Akalis.
If the three parties indeed come together, it may change the equations on the ground.
The Congress, on the other hand, after purging out Captain Amarinder Singh has found a surprise warhorse in chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi.
Channi, who is the first dalit chief minister of the state and represents an electorally important segment, has moved swiftly to consolidate his position.
He has been quick to take a leaf out of AAP’s book and has made a slew of announcements to counter the poll promises being made by Kejriwal’s party.
So much so that the AAP chief has called him ‘fake Kejriwal’ for copying his pre-poll promises.
Both these developments come as a challenge to Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, which has till now been the frontrunner in all exit polls.
In the changed political scenario, to counter Channi, AAP’s best bet is perhaps Sidhu.
Sidhu, who has been at the receiving end of a bitter campaign by all political rivals, is clearly unhappy with the way events have unfolded in the Congress.
The cricketer-turned-politician, who played a key role in ensuring the exit of Amarinder Singh and later also in Channi's appointment, has been constantly targeting his own chief minister over key policy decisions.
Sidhu would have hoped to be Congress's chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming assembly elections after unseating Captain Amarinder Singh.
But that seems to be difficult, at least for now.
The Congress cannot afford to, and perhaps would not want to, sideline Channi and Sidhu knows this very well.
Sidhu has questioned some of the key claims made by chief minister Channi and has raised these issues in public much to the embarrassment of the party.
Channi has been forced to retract on some of the key appointments under pressure from Sidhu, but he is definitely not giving up.
Clearly, the two Congress leaders are not on the same page, despite the public posturing and claims of “all is well” by party leaders.
For political rivals, including AAP, the simmering differences between the two is clearly a good opportunity to put the Congress on the backfoot.
This perhaps explains why Kejriwal is targeting Channi and at the same time praising Sidhu.
It is worthwhile to remember that Sidhu had, during the peak of his power tussle with Amarinder Singh, played the AAP card to keep everyone in the Congress guessing about his moves.
“Our opposition AAP has always recognised my vision & work for Punjab. Be it before 2017- Beadbi (sacrilege), Drugs, Farmers Issues, Corruption & Power Crisis faced by People of Punjab raised by me or today as I present ‘Punjab Model’, it is clear they know - who is really fighting for Punjab,” Sidhu had then said in a tweet.
There were reports then that Sidhu, who had joined the Congress in 2017 after quitting the BJP, may cross over to the AAP.
However, that did not happen then and it is unlikely that it will happen now.
Sidhu, who kept everyone guessing then, was placated by the Congress which made him the state chief.
Once again, Sidhu seems to be playing the guessing game with the Congress and Kejriwal’s open endorsement may come in handy for the embattled party chief.