The love-hate relationship between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the media, which has been in evidence since the party's formation, has sprung an off-shoot in the form of 'impressed' journalists joining the party and contesting elections.
While some journalists jumped into the fray in Delhi and a few others joined the party to direct its media strategy, the party's foray in the Punjab assembly election too has seen media persons entering the fray. Interestingly, all the nearly half-a-dozen journalists contesting the elections are doing so only on AAP tickets.
One of the prominent candidates is Jarnail Singh, who resigned his Delhi Assembly seat to take on none other than Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal who is seeking re-election for the sixth time from Lambi constituency. At 89 the oldest serving chief minister, Badal also has the distinction of having been the youngest chief minister of the state when he first occupied the post at the age of 44. In between he has had five tenures as chief minister.
The aspiring giant killer is a former Delhi-based reporter of a Hindi daily. Jarnail Singh came to the limelight when he threw a shoe at the then union home minister P. Chidambaram for the government's failure to ensure punishment for those involved in the 1984 Sikh massacre. He was subsequently given the AAP ticket and came out with flying colours.
To seek election from Punjab, he had to resign from the Delhi Assembly and register as a voter in Punjab. Apart from his supporters projecting him as a probable chief ministerial candidate, the response he got in the Lambi constituency was tremendous. He travelled extensively in Lambi, causing serious concern to the Akalis.
Kanwar Sandhu. with the AAP symbol.
The contest in Lambi has become even most prestigious since former chief minister and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh also decided to contest from the constituency. It is now a triangular contest with most observers perceiving a close call between Amarinder Singh and Jarnail Singh. Much will, however, depend on which way the three cut into each other's votes.
Another prominent journalist who is contesting is Kanwar Sandhu who is seeking election for the AAP from the Kharar constituency. Kanwar had worked at the Indian Express, the Hindustan Times and the Tribune in senior positions before launching the Day & Night news channel. He joined the AAP last year and was given the task of heading the committee drafting the manifesto.
For the first time, the party has come out with half a dozen subject-specific manifestos after consulting people through public meetings. Kanwar is the Sikh face the party was looking for after criticism that 'outsiders' were controlling the party in the state.
Kanwar set a hectic pace for himself and has visited all the villages in the rural-dominated Kharar constituency. His main rival is the sitting Congress MLA Jagmohan Singh Kang who has won three times. A former student leader, Kang has also been a minister. Kang’s plea is that he could not contribute to the development of the constituency because he was in the opposition.
Besides a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate, Kang and Kanwar are also pitted against an Apna Punjab Party candidate – a party of AAP rebels led by its former convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur.
Another former journalist Manjit Singh Bilaspur is contesting on behalf of the AAP from Nihalsingh Wala constituency. The 39-year-old graduate has worked with the leading Punjabi Daily, the Ajit, for nearly two decades. He is also author of a book called Taraf dar Taraf.
Interestingly, Bilaspur was booked for assault a day after he was nominated by the AAP as its candidate. This followed protests from the supporters of other contenders for the AAP ticket. He is contesting against Rajwinder Kaur, sitting Congress MLA who won the previous election by a margin of just about 600 votes.
Yet another journalist is Kulwant Singh Pandori from Mehal Kalan constituency. Pandori, 44, has studied up to Class XII and has worked with Punjabi newspapers Spokesman, Pehredar and Daily Ajit for about a dozen years. He is the President of the Press Club Mehak Kalan and Vice President of the Press Club Barnala. He is competing against sitting Congress MLA Harchand Kaur and SAD's Ajit Singh Shant.
AAP had also announced a ticket for Vinod Kumar from Bhoa constituency. Kumar is a registered medical practitioner who also worked for a national Hindi daily. However, something appears to have gone wrong immediately after his nomination was announced. Kumar alleged that some AAP leaders were seeking Rs 1 crore for the ticket and were threatening to withdraw his nomination.
He said he was summoned by the party’s Punjab in-charge Sanjay Singh and organisation secretary Durgesh Pathak to the party office in Chandigarh and given this instruction. AAP leaders, however, denied the allegations. Within hours, he was replaced by a new candidate, Amarjit Singh.
Interestingly, although the Congress and the Akalis have not fielded any journalists, these parties have journalists who have given up the profession to be their full time media advisors. Jangbir Singh, senior staffer with the Tribune, gave up his job a couple of years ago to become the media adviser to the deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal who is also president of the SAD. He recently resigned from the post of media adviser to assist the party in its campaign.
Another senior journalist Vimal Sumbly, again with the Tribune, is the media advisor to the Congress’ Amarinder Singh. The latter is also being 'advised' by a former senior staffer of the Hindustan Times and the Tribune, who later headed a Hindi daily. He is not, however, a designated adviser.
Finally, former Hindu and Indian Express senior staffer Chander Suta Dogra has joined AAP and is a spokesperson for the party on television.