When the wind is your way, all goes your way. That is not necessarily the case for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Its Punjab unit has caught itself in factionalism, dissatisfaction and suspension of two of its MPs, even when things are rolling in the party’s direction.
“Arvind Kejriwal is a dictator and he is running the Punjab unit from Delhi. I am a man of principles and shall not compromise, even if it means expulsion from the party,” suspended MP Harinder Singh Khalsa tells Tehelka. AAP has suspended Fatehgarh Sahib MP, Khalsa and Patiala MP, Dharamvir Gandhi i.e. two of its four parliamentarians on 29 August.
Ironically, the decision comes merely seven days after the AAP started its Punjab Jodo or ‘Connecting Punjab’ campaign. It appears that AAP Punjab is following a script similar to Delhi Assembly election but this time with a little correction. The duo, Khalsa and Gandhi, indulged in airing their criticisms via the media, creating an air of embarrassment for the party as Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav did during and after Delhi Assembly election. The only difference is that Punjab election is expected towards the end of 2017, which gives the aap ample opportunity to eliminate the dissatisfaction among volunteers, if any, over removal of such leaders.
The party claims it gained huge ground in Punjab by enrolling 22 lakh new volunteers since 22 August under its Connecting Punjab campaign. Sanjay Singh is in charge of AAP in Punjab and Durgesh Pathak has been given charge of organisational and political affairs. “Nothing was organised when I started my ground activity from 1 June. Since then we have restructured the party units at district and booth level. Now we have committees at 60-70 percent booths in Punjab and have been able to involve 1 lakh volunteers in organisational work,” he says.
Though Pathak’s team is bringing historic changes in Punjab, its impact might get marred due to feeling of regionalism, which has started surfacing. The increased dominance of ‘outsiders’ i.e. the central leadership is creating ripples of trouble. “People from UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar are taking decisions, with no sense of Punjabi culture or ethos. It appears that they have created a Delhi Durbar culture in AAP like other parties. This was not the party I joined,” says Khalsa. The salvo was made against Sanjay Singh who hails from UP and Pathak who is from Bihar. Also, Khalsa questioned Singh’s credentials in politics calling him “Amar Singh’s poster boy”.
The manner in which suspensions and removals are being sought or carried out appears absurd. While removing Khalsa and Gandhi, AAP said, “the Parliamentary Action Commmitte (PAC) took cognisance of anti-party activities indulged in by Dharamavira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa in Punjab. In a unanimous decision, the PAC suspended Khalsa and Gandhi from the party.” Their cases had been referred to National Disciplinary Committee which will take a call on their future.
Bhagwant Mann, another AAP MP from Sangrur, came down heavily on the suspended duo and justified the party action at a rally in Ludhiana, where he was sharing the stage with Sanjay Singh. Interestingly, within a week’s time an audio clip of a conversation between Mann and Gandhi is doing the rounds in social media where he is openly speaking against other leaders in Punjab AAP.
While the party has given clean chit to Mann, one is amused to hear the proximity between the two MPs and how Mann is claiming that state affairs should be given to MPs who won election and saved AAP’s face when Kejriwal himself lost the election. He can be heard accusing the party’s Punjab Convenor Sucha Singh Chotepur of promoting people from his own lobby in the party. Also, Mann was part of the state executive committee meeting on 9 May which voted for removal of Chotepur from state convenor’s post, later declared unconstitutional by Singh. Now Mann is standing with Singh and Chotepur attacking Gandhi and Khalsa.
While Khalsa calls Mann an “opportunist”, Gandhi feels that he has changed sides. Also, Chotepur, who has been a long-time politician with Congress and Akalis in the past is under the scanner for compromising with his former affiliations and inducting people with dubious history.
A similar line of salvos as seen in Delhi AAP are being fired from both camps. Chotepur refuted allegations and his role in the suspension of the duo. He informs Tehelka, “MPs come under central leadership’s purview and I have no involvement in the decision. They (duo) are big people but the party is supreme. They were organising rallies parallel to the party thus creating confusion.” The bone of contention is the rally at Baba Bakala fair, which all three parties i.e. the BJP, the Akali Dal and the AAP use to showcase their political clout.
However, Gandhi tells a different story, “5,000 volunteers from 22 districts came to meet us. They were angered due to party policies where core principles like internal democracy, swaraj, transparency and clean politics are being compromised.” He further added that the AAP is becoming like any other party. “Now it appears that Arvind is AAP and AAP is Arvind.” He didn’t discount the possibilities that disciplinary action has to do with his proximity to Yadav and Bhushan. However, AAP has nullified any such possibility. He says they tried to resolve the crisis. “Three rounds of conversation with party chief Kejriwal conceded nothing concrete.”
Amidst all this, Chotepur is confident of not only repeating AAP’s Delhi performance in Punjab but surpassing it. Interestingly, both Khalsa and Gandhi say they will vouch for AAP’s deserving candidates in the upcoming state Assembly elections. “I will campaign for candidates with clean background. As an MP with whatever influence and capacity I have, I will use it for AAP candidates. I want the state free from Akalis and Congress.”