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Khaira gets both flak & praise: Why AAP in Punjab continues to remain in crisis

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 21 June 2018, 23:23 IST


Crisis of leadership and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continue to go hand in hand in Punjab. At the centre of the crisis now stands AAP's Sukhpal Singh Khaira who is the leader of Opposition in the state Assembly. He is in the eye of the storm over his support to the 'Referendum 2020' campaign of some Sikh hardliners on the issue of self determination. Although Khaira has tried to clarify that he is no votary of Sikhs seeking a separate homeland, he has underlined that issues related to the injustice to the community need to be addressed.

While the storm over Khaira continues, the key question that comes to mind is that why has the top leadership in Punjab unable to survive for long without getting into a conflict with the organisational heads in Delhi and also in the state. In this case also reports say that the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal refused to meet Khaira on Wednesday and the party's Punjab in-charge Manish Sisodia also gave him a dressing down asking him to come clear on the issue.

Earlier the party's co-president in Punjab Dr Balbir Singh along with others had come out with a statement saying the party directly or indirectly does not support 'Referendum 2020' and clarified that the party totally believe in the Constitution of India and integrity of country is utmost thing for it. The party does not support any activity against the unity and federal structure of the country.

Commenting on Khaira's statement, the leaders said that it can be his personal view on the issue. They said that the party will seek clarification from Khaira on the issue and further underlined that the party will not hesitate to take action against the volunteers and leaders those have views against the Constitution of the country.

The crisis in the party got further escalated with a large number of NRI units writing an open letter to Sisodia on the issue backing Khaira's stand. The letter reads, “As you might have seen his recent interviews about the referendum, he clearly mentioned again and again that he is an Indian, and he believes in the Constitution of this country but we need to introspect on what led to this situation that Sikhs are considering these actions. He raised the question which was for whole Sikh leadership, mainly Badals who have been in power in Punjab for so many years and falsely promised the justice to people again and again. It is very sad to see that instead of supporting Khaira’s question, our own leaders went against Khaira and started chaos on media openly against Khaira.”

It further states, “We would like to inform you that we all are standing with Mr. Sukhpal Khaira on this issue. And, we are also very upset with Balbir Singh the way he handled the situation. He showed his immaturity to be a Punjab level leader first, by going against Khaira without knowing full situation and then even worse by putting Khaira’s personal phone number on social media.”

This episode apart, one needs to ponder on why the top leadership of the party in Punjab has failed to sail smoothly for long. The list of the leaders at the top who had to pave way for others is pretty long in the small span of existence of the party in the state. These include names like Sumail Sidhu, Succha Singh Chhotepur, Gurpreet Singh Waraich aka Ghuggi etc. Two of the party's Lok Sabha MPs Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa continue to remain suspended and even the Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann who was the star campaigner for Punjab resigned as the state unit chief a few months back.

Many blame Kejriwal's style of functioning for this continuing trend. Prof. Manjit Singh who was among the founders of the party in Punjab and later parted ways told Catch, “ The party structure was never allowed to grow and there was never a distribution of power in the state. If that was done the Punjab unit would had a say in deciding at least 50 per cent of the contestants for the Punjab polls. Kejriwal is a NGO man and in NGOs the CEO is everything. He s running the political institution and party with an NGO experience. He has always allowed loose ends to remain so that he can prevail himself.”

He said there is hardly any difference between Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi when it comes to running their respective parties with an iron hand. “The authoritarian streak within democracy is dangerous,” he said.

AAP had paid a big political price for allegedly hobnobbing with Sikh hardliners ahead of the Punjab polls as the party that once threatened to walk away with the winner's trophy was relegated to a distant second position. Many interpret Khaira's stand in this light. At the same time the over ambitious leaders scheming against each other also had a role to play in this electoral defeat.

The party has refused to learn and this was evident from the recent controversy regarding an audio clip surfacing of a purported conversation between two party leaders on clipping Khaira’s wings. The clipping allegedly between party leaders Garry Birring and Sumit Yadav was about the role of Khaira in turmoil in the state unit, the support he gets from AAP MLAs and the need to cut him to size. This was reportedly followed by another audio containing some disparaging comments on the party MLAs. Balbir Singh had come out with a statement saying that a probe had been initiated into the matter.

The letter written by the NRIs to Sisodia also touches upon the issue saying, “Few weeks ago, the audio recording of Garry Birring was leaked and was posted on social media. As you know the context of his call, where he was using very foul language against our MLAs, Khaira and other leaders, no action has been taken by the committee made by Mr. Balbir Singh. This is another example of Balbir Singh’s incapability for being Punjab co-convener.”

The party remains in turmoil in Punjab. Something has to be done fast to put its house in order it it wants to repeat its performance of 2014 in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls next year.


First published: 21 June 2018, 23:23 IST