After Kejriwal's apology, is it the end of the road for AAP in Punjab?
After Aam Aadmi Party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal's apologising to Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia for calling him a drug dealer, everyone in Punjab appears to be discussing whether this is the end of the road for AAP in the state. While it may be too early to write an epitaph for the party at this point of time but the damage that has been done to its Punjab unit has gone a bit too far.
On Friday, AAP lost its ally the Lok Insaf Party (LIP) that has walked out of the alliance over the tendering of the apology by Kejriwal. While this departure hardly makes any difference in terms of the structure of the present state assembly, it carries a lot of symbolic significance.
When AAP went in for an alliance with this party led by highly vocal and aggressive Bains brothers (Balwinder Singh and Simarjeet Singh), it was a major departure from its stand since its inception in 2012. This was for the first time ever that it had gone in for a pre-poll alliance out of political compulsions as it was smelling a victory in the Assembly polls.
It's former convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich aka Ghuggi had said, "Our Constitution does not forbid an alliance. It says that tickets cannot be given to two members of a family. If this hindrance was not there, there could have been a merger of LIP with AAP". Now that alliance stands broken.
The more important aspect is that while the Punjab unit of the party has rebelled against the Delhi leadership, it stands just short of going independent for which they will have to opt for a name change with support from two thirds as per the constitutional provisions. This is a strong possibility as the things stand. This would simply translate into the fact that there would be nothing like original AAP in Punjab if this happens.
There are reports in the media saying that it was a few MLAs that are still strongly with the Delhi unit who put a spanner in the move for the AAP MLAs moving out on Friday.
For the time being, it has been decided that none of the AAP leaders will go to Delhi for meetings but it will be the Delhi leadership that would have to come to Punjab. This hardly carries any weight in the face of the loss of credibility that the Punjab leadership is facing. Same is the case with the resignations tendered by the Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and Sunam MLA Aman Arora as president and co-president of the Punjab unit.
The Akalis who are sitting smug following the chaos in the AAP ranks after Majithia scored a major goal by drawing the apology, are now adding fuel to fire with their statements. The SAD has asked both Mann and Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira to resign from the primary membership of AAP as well as the Lok Sabha and state assembly respectively and seek a fresh mandate.
Party leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said, “If both Mann and Khaira feel differently now and are truly not with the AAP Convener they should resign from parliament and the state assembly immediately because they got votes in the name of Kejriwal.”
The Congress has also been unsparing in taking a dig at both Kejriwal and AAP. Punjab Congress vice president Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has asked Kejriwal what was the haste and hurry in beating such a 'shameful retreat', when the investigations are going on and the court is yet to pronounce its judgment.
At the same time, Randhawa reiterated his allegations against Majithia saying that Kejriwal’s apology does not exonerate him of the crime of patronising and promoting drug trade in Punjab and he already stood guilty in people’s court.
Asserting that there was a nexus between the AAP and the Akalis, the Punjab Congress Committee vice president pointed out the apology was deliberately tendered on the same day when the Special Task Force (STF) constituted by the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had submitted its report to the Punjab and Haryana High Court saying there was evidence on the basis of which Majithia should be investigated. This, he said, was done to divert the public attention from the report.
“I don’t know if Kejriwal is scared or he has taken money. But he has definitely back-stabbed the people of Punjab,” Randhawa said.
AAP's supporters and volunteers in the state are very annoyed with Kejriwal's decision . They are pointing that such a strategy in defamation cases can halt the expansion of the party's base. They are accusing him of letting them down saying that they blindly followed him and carried out tasks for AAP at the cost of their personal benefits.
They are pointing to candidates like Himmat Singh Shergill who had dropped a comfortable seat like Mohali where he had chances of winning easily to go and contest against Majithia just to drive home the party's resolve on fighting drug menace.
The party's performance since the Assembly polls has been pathetic. It fared very poorly in the recent Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-poll where its candidate forfeited his deposit and most alarming was the massive fall in the vote share in comparison to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party could poll only around 23,000 voes while it had polled around 1,73,000 votes in 2014 polls. The party fared poorly in the local body polls including the recent Ludhiana Municipal Corporation polls where it could win only one seat. The trend does not offer a rosy picture and the tendering of apology has just added to the woes of AAP. The party that had once promised to be a third alternative in Punjab politics today stares at the possibility of losing its existence.