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AAP headed for a split in Punjab: Is it time to write it off in the state?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 1 August 2018, 18:55 IST

Political crisis and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab have moved hand in hand. As the party stares at a vertical split there is a pertinent question that has raised its head -- Is it time to write off AAP in Punjab?

The question has to be answered because the state will be voting for its 13 Lok Sabha member in less than a year. At a time when the the party should be coming out with strategies to woo the voter on the ground its members are locked in a fight that is heading towards a split in the ranks.

The fresh avalanche to hit AAP came with the party in-charge for Punjab Manish Sisodia tweeting last week about the decision to replace the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Sukhpal Singh Khaira with a Dalit face Harpal Singh Cheema.

There have been many reasons being attributed to Khaira's removal. One of them was his 'support' to the 'Referendum 2020' being planned by hardline Sikhs living abroad. No amount of clarifications issued by him have worked as his detractors pounced upon the opportunity to discredit him. The second reason being attributed is Khaira not getting along well with the Sangrur MP and senior party leader Bhagwant Mann. He has also been accused of not listening to anyone's advice and going ahead with what he thinks is right.

Khaira was also among those who did not approve of AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tendering an apology to senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikramjit Singh Majithia for leveling accusations against him with regards to the prevalent drug menace ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls.

As expected Khaira did not take his removal lying down. Instead he has turned it into a fight for autonomy for the Punjab unit of the party. He has planned a volunteers' convention in Bathinda on Thursday where majority of the AAP MLAs are expected to be present. This will be a show of strength in the face of the 'dictatorial' approach of the national leadership of the party sitting in Delhi. Backed by several MLAs, Khaira has already demanded his reinstatement as Leader of Opposition.

Khaira has the support of the NRI volunteers of the party. These NRIs based in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand recently wrote to the AAP MLAs in Punjab asking them to stand by Khaira in this hour of crisis. Their letter that was circulated in the social media read, “With much due respect, we are very disappointed with recent activities in AAP Punjab units. We all NRIs worked very hard for four years and tried to support you all thru fund raising efforts, walked as volunteers on the ground with you all and executed calling campaigns to convince voters to vote for you all. We have witnessed our big Punjab leadership shrunk to almost zero.”

The letter further said, “It is time to show that for us Punjab is above everything. People of Punjab showed utmost faith in all of you and now it is your time to stand with people of Punjab. We are requesting you all please stand with Khaira and stand with Punjab and our all 19-20 teams will support you guys fully.”

The series of developments unfolding now were expected to unfold at the time of Kejriwal tendering the apology to Majithia. But it was clear at that point of time that things would go this way sooner or later.

The issue of autonomy for the Punjab leadership had started dogging AAP ahead of the last state assembly polls when the issue of distribution of tickets had come up. Just before the time of the ouster of Succha Singh Chhotepur as the state unit chief murmurs of dissent had started against the dominance of the volunteers who had come from outside. The local leadership wanted a greater say in the distribution of tickets and there were all sorts of allegations against Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak who had been sent by the party to establish the organizational network in Punjab. Things had started going downhill from the time Chhotepur was removed and the slide has not stopped till date.
Once the party blew up its chances of coming to power in Punjab, even the Delhi leadership stopped taking keen interest in the developments in Punjab.

In the present context one needs to look into two simultaneous political developments that have a bearing on the party affairs in Punjab. There is a point of view that the national leadership of the party is right now too focused on Delhi for both the Lok Sabha polls and the subsequent assembly polls. AAP wants to retain power in Delhi and do well in the Lok Sabha polls.

It is clear that the party is in no position to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in Punjab when it won four of the 13 seats in a 'Modi wave'. Two of its Lok Sabha MPs Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa have been suspended by the party.

Gandhi has already floated a Punjab Manch which is expected to become a political party in the days to come. He released its 'Punjab Declaration' on Tuesday playing up need for genuine federalism in the country. On his role in context of AAP, he said, “I even voted according to the whip issued by the party for the recent no confidence motion against the Narendra Modi led central government. When it comes to the issue of autonomy for Punjab I do not differ with Khaira.”

The second issue that is plaguing the AAP leadership is the possibility of an alliance with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls. There are many within the party who are open to the idea of this alliance as this would lead to a seat arrangement in Punjab wherein the party can expect to retain a couple of seats despite playing the second fiddle to the Congress. Observers say that in Delhi it would be a role reversal where AAP might call the shots in the event of such an alliance coming into existence. Meanwhile, all the eyes are now on Khaira's convention in Bathinda and its outcome that will decide whether AAP survives or gets divided in the state..

First published: 1 August 2018, 18:55 IST