Arvind Kejriwal gets a backer, thanks to Mamata

Mamata Banerjee may well have taken her first baby step in Punjab politics, convincing expelled Congress leader Jagmeet Brar to back Arvind Kejriwal in the battle against the Badals in the 2017 elections.

“Mamataji spoke to me some days ago and asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to fight against the Badals and the Congress to save Punjab. Mukul Roy also spoke to me. She also spoke to Arvind Kejriwal,” Brar said today at a news conference at which several Aam Aadmi Party leaders were present.

“Every member of the Lokhit Abhiyaan (a platform Brar has formed) will stand behind the AAP in this election to oust the Shiromani Akali Dal and defeat the Congress.”

Brar was expelled from the Congress in April for “anti-party activities” that included criticism of the Gandhi family. A vocal critic of Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh, he had been scouting for potential partners to align with when Mamata suggested the way forward.

Brar said he had known the Bengal chief minister from the time she was a Youth Congress leader. She was also observer when he first took on Parkash Singh Badal in the 1980 elections.

Mukul Roy, the Trinamul Congress all-India vice-president and Rajya Sabha, confirmed the talks with Brar. “He is our man. We had talks over the last two days,” Roy said over phone from Calcutta.

Asked what role Trinamul proposed to play in the Punjab polls, he said: “Let us see what role we get to play. We can campaign. Talks are on.”

There was, however, no word from the AAP leadership whether Brar would contest the polls. Brar said a decision would be taken by the AAP, which has announced candidates for 32 of the 117 Assembly seats so far.

Sources said Trinamul chief Mamata and Kejriwal, both of whom had gone to Vatican City for Mother Teresa’s canonisation on Sunday, had discussed the Punjab elections when they met.

“Didi is very keenly observing the developments in Punjab. A good show by the AAP will help us prepare better for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” said a Trinamul leader close to Mamata.

Over the past 18 months, Mamata and Kejriwal have struck a rapport and have been backing each other against the Modi regime. Mamata had tweeted in favour of the AAP ahead of the 2015 Delhi elections and invited Kejriwal for the swearing-in for her second term.

In return, the AAP has invited Mamata to address the Delhi Assembly. Recently, when its MP Bhagwant Mann came under fire for uploading a video of the Parliament building, Mamata had rallied behind him.

The AAP has been having a rough ride of late, with some leaders camping in Punjab being dubbed “outsiders”. One leader was recently suspended on allegations of bribery and another expelled on charges of rape.

Sanjay Singh, the AAP’s Punjab in-charge, said: “Whenever we have come under attack in Punjab, Brar has supported us. For the polls too, he has declared unconditional support to us.”

Brar is a strong contender in the Malwa region in south Punjab. He has been holding rallies targeting the Badals’ failure to guarantee jobs and rein in the drug menace.