Arvind Kejriwal's list of woes in Punjab - religion, opium and the masses
Even as Arvind Kejriwal comes to Amritsar to end the row over his party allegedly hurting Sikh sentiments, there are fresh controversies waiting for him. He arrives in Amritsar on 18 July and is scheduled to perform sewa at the Golden Temple. AAP has announced that this would be a low key affair as it is neither a part of a political campaign nor is it going to be a show of strength.
AAP has been embroiled in a series of controversies allegedly involving Sikh religious sentiments and the opposition Congress party and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have spared no opportunity to hit out at AAP and its leadership.
First it was the cover of AAP's youth manifesto that had the party symbol of a broom with the Golden Temple as its backdrop. Next it was a statement of senior leader Ashish Khetan equating the document with religious texts and finally it was Kejriwal's picture dressed as a Nihang Sikh on the cover of a national magazine which has dominated the political discourse over the last fortnight.
The latest row was sparked by expelled AAP leader Jassi Jasraj, who said that the Punjab leadership of the party is getting a raw deal as compared to "outsiders".
Jasraj is a popular Punjabi singer who had unsuccessfully contested the last parliamentary poll from Bathinda against Harsimrat Kaur Badal and People's Party of Punjab (PPP) leader Manpreet Badal, who is now with the Congress.
Questioning the functioning of AAP in Punjab, Jasraj has claimed that the party is going the PPP way ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls by inducting leaders from rival political parties and bureaucrats with dubious reputations. He claims that he was suspended from AAP without any notice and has underlined that he would also go to the Golden Temple on 18 July to have a word with Kejriwal.
When asked what stops him from floating his own political front, he said, " I can do that and also win some seats but it will be Punjab's loss.
He demanded that the party must explain why there is no punishment for AAP leaders from Delhi like Ashish Khetan for his blunder on equating the party's youth manifesto with religious texts when the party was quick to act against MPs Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa along with other Punjab leaders Dr Daljit Singh and himself.
He pointed out that it was the Punjab unit which delivered 4 seats and got more than 33 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha elections while the party was wiped out in Delhi.
He further charged, " The Delhi observers are collecting funds from each constituency without giving receipts on many occasions and we have proof of this. Where is the money going?"
While denying his allegations, the local AAP leadership has played down the issue. "Jasraj can say whatever he wants since he is a free bird. I told him on several occasions to raise issues within the party platforms but he was always carrying out parallel programmes. Indiscipline will not be tolerated in our party," said senior AAP leader Succha Singh Chhotepur.
Suspended MP wants to legalise "herbal" drugs
Another issue that has the potential to embarrass the AAP in the state is the decision of its suspended Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi to introduce a private members' bill in the monsoon session of Parliament seeking decriminalisation of poppy husk, opium and marijuana by amending the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985.
Gandhi along with several other intellectuals and activists has been saying that this step can go a long way in dealing with the drug menace that has gripped Punjab. They feel that because of criminalisation of herbal drugs, their costs spiraled in the black market and the youngsters took to looking for cheaper synthetic drugs that have now become a menace in the state.
Although suspended Gandhi still represents AAP in the Parliament, his stand is quite contradictory to the campaigns that AAP has run in the state against drugs. "I am not aware of any such move by him. Our party is against promotion of any sort of intoxicant," was all that AAP MP from adjoining Sangrur Bhagwant Mann could say on the issue.
But the question is going to be raised before Kejriwal also. In fact Gandhi too has been speaking against the AAP's leadership having imposed leaders from Delhi on Punjab. He has been raising the issue both at local as well as international level during his radio talks abroad.
The party remains in a quandary over the fate of its two suspended MPs. They refuse to resign their seats saying that the people of their constituencies have elected them for a full five year term. The party on the other side says that they can come back to the fold only if they promise to abide by the party discipline.
Even AAP supporters feel that the party should start ironing out such issues as very soon it will be going into a campaign mode and these would provide unnecessary fodder to its opponents.
More in Catch - Row over hurting Sikh sentiments: has AAP walked into a trap?