From almost losing prime Opposition space to Phoolka quitting: AAP's boat continues to rock in Punjab
It has been four months since the Punjab Assembly polls got over but the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) boat in the state has not been on steady waters. The general perception now is that the party, which was once vying to form the government, is now struggling for stability.
Neither has there been any new programmes or agitations that had once been AAP's hallmark, nor has its leadership managed to make a mark as the main opposition party on the floor of the House in the State Assembly.
The latest episode in a long series of disappointments is the resignation of HS Phoolka as the Leader of Opposition, less than four months since he took over the post.
Phoolka submitted his resignation to the Speaker Rana KP Singh on Tuesday before announcing it on social media. He said that the post was obstructing his pursuit of justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims.
The Delhi Bar Council had reportedly barred him from fighting the cases as he was holding an office of profit with the rank of a cabinet minister and drawing a salary. He had said some days back that the Bar Council rules allow an MP or an MLA to appear in court, but not a minister.
AAP is yet to announce his successor and names have started doing the rounds. The three main contenders for the post are Sukhpal Khaira, Kanwar Sandhu, Aman Arora and Baljinder Kaur.
His experience as a former Congress legislator makes Khaira the front-runner for the post. He is known for cornering the Congress leadership on various issues ever since he left the party on a bitter note to join AAP last year. But his drawback remains the opposition that he had raised when the part chose Bhagwant Mann to head its Punjab unit in the reshuffle after the polls.
Aman Arora too had joined AAP after leaving the Congress. Since the sitting MLA from Sunam is the co-president of the state unit, it remains to be seen whether the party also chooses him for the post of the Leader of Opposition or not.
The third name doing the rounds is that of journalist-turned-politician Kanwar Sandhu who represents the Kharar constituency. His biggest shortfall, as is being said, is his lack of exposure as a full-time politician.
On the other hand, Baljinder Kaur is being seen as a dark horse. Her performance in the first session of the State Assembly had drawn a lot of appreciation from the party's top leadership.
There have also been reports of some AAP leaders proposing the merger of the party ally Lok Insaf Party led by the Bains brothers – Simarjit Singh and Balwinder Singh – and then making Simarjit the Leader of Opposition. But he has denied being in the race or the proposed merger.
It is being expected that the party will name the new Leader of Opposition by Thursday and the announcement will be made by the national convener Arvind Kejriwal.
Meanwhile, the question doing the rounds is whether the AAP's Punjab unit will have a complete say in deciding the name.
While resigning from the post Phoolka has sent out the message that the cause of justice for 1984 victims is above everything else for him.
But his decision has drawn attack from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa who is also the general secretary of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC).
Sirsa has termed Phoolka's decision as 'drama', claiming that his resignation will not benefit the victims or their families. He said that instead, Phoolka should persuade Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to start work for the welfare of these families.
He has demanded that AAP immediately provide jobs to one member per family of these victims, give them reservation benefits, ownership rights of the government flats and houses allotted to them besides renovating them.
He also attacked the Kejriwal government for the Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted for a fresh investigation of 1984, for not doing anything. Sirsa said that if AAP and its government had been serious about taking steps for the welfare of these families, they would have brought a resolution in the Delhi Assembly declaring 1 November as a Black Day, for which he claims to have written to Kejriwal.
But most important is the issue of AAP failing to steady itself after the electoral loss. Observers point out that the hyper-local agitations that the party was known for are not being witnessed anymore. And the issues on which they were agitating – be it farm distress, farmer suicides and unemployment – they are yet to do anything about.
The party did raise a hue and cry over the crop loan waiver announced by the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government and the sand mining scam, but its intensity did not hit the ground hard enough.
It is also being pointed out that despite AAP being the main opposition party, it has been the Akalis, led by former chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who have successfully managed to hijack the opposition's agenda. And this was visible during the recent state assembly session.
While there was so much drama during the session that was marked by women MLAs crying and turbans being tossed when AAP MLAs were evicted, the state's top leadership, including Bhagwant Mann, was nowhere to take charge of political developments outside the Assembly. Over all these months, Mann's visibility has gone down considerably.
The Akalis too were ordered to be evicted after the AAP MLAs, but Sukhbir and his colleagues managed to make a show of it and completely hijack the opposition agenda. They were quick to take to social media, which was once the main tool of AAP politics, sending across messages of democracy being murdered, calling for the removal of the Speaker and portraying the Congress as the enemy of the Sikhs. They were far ahead of AAP in the game.
While there was no one in AAP who steered the matter further, Sukhbir managed to make it a religio-political affair and soon it was the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Kirpal Singh Badungar taking the matter ahead.
“There is an immediate need for AAP to reinvent itself if it wants to play a long innings in Punjab. They must remember that public memory is short. The immediate task at hand would be to come up with a decent show in the local body elections to be held in a few months,” pointed a senior media person in Chandigarh.