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Swaraj Abhiyan launches political party in Punjab, signs of rift with Delhi

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST
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The launch
  • Swaraj Abhiyan has launched a political party in Punjab, called the Swaraj Party
  • It is led by Professor Manjit Singh, and claims to have the support of suspended AAP MPs Dharamvira Gandhi and HS Khalsa
The rift
  • The Abhiyan\'s central leadership has distanced itself from the new political outfit, while maintaining \'fraternal links\'
  • Manjit Singh says swaraj is not possible if central leadership pulls strings in Punjab
More in the story
  • Potential impact of the new political party on AAP and next year\'s Assembly polls
  • The agenda it has set, and how it\'s different to AAP

The Swaraj Abhiyan launched by former Aam Aadmi Party members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan now has a political arm in Punjab, called the Swaraj Party.

Professor Manjit Singh is the head of the new party, which claims to have the 'good wishes' of two of AAP's suspended MPs - Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa.

Read: Yogendra Yadav's Swaraj Abhiyan goes political, to debut in Punjab by-poll

The announcement was made after a state-level convention held at Chandigarh on Sunday, 29 May.

Observers feel that the birth of this party could be detrimental to the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is looking towards forming the next government in the state.

Rift with Delhi already?

Swaraj Abhiyan came into existence after its main leaders, Yadav and Bhushan, were expelled from AAP due to their differences with its national convener Arvind Kejriwal.

However, the new Swaraj Party doesn't have full backing from the central Swaraj Abhiyan leadership, which has distanced itself from it and reportedly said it is not in accordance with the due process laid down by the Swaraj Abhiyan. At the same time, it has maintained that it would like to have fraternal links with the new political entity in Punjab.

Swaraj Abhiyan was launched by Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan after being expelled from AAP

Quizzed about why the political front had been launched without the central leadership's consent, Manjit Singh told Catch: "The organisation has been talking about Swaraj. How can that be possible if the control is with the organisational headquarters in Delhi? We have not parted ways with them.

"The issue of forming the political front in Punjab had been dragging on for the last eight months. At every meeting, a date was fixed, and later, the announcement was shelved. This happened even on the foundation day of the Abhiyan on 14 April."

He underlined that with the elections only a few months away and other political parties flexing their muscles in the public domain, the launch of the political front could not be delayed any further.

"Whenever the Swaraj Abhiyan launches its political front at the national level, we will either merge with it, or have an affiliation with it," Manjit added.

The party's agenda

The Swaraj Party has committed itself to people-centric politics, with the cooperation of the masses. It has listed issues like free education, free health and medical services, a debt-free rural Punjab, expansion of MGNREGA to urban Punjab and universal employment as some of the core issues on its agenda.

Unlike AAP, which has been accused of changing its stance on the sharing of river waters with neighbouring states, the Swaraj Party has clearly said that it would fight for the implementation of riparian principles on the distribution of the river waters of Punjab.

Also read: Punjab elections may see contest between Yogendra Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal

The party has constituted a 41 member state working committee to ensure the expansion of its base at block and village levels.

The party, under the name of Swaraj Leher (as a formal launch had not been made), had enrolled members all over the state. It had constituted district committees in many districts and the process is expected to be put in a higher gear.

"We are yet to decide the number of seats that we will be contesting in the forthcoming Assembly polls. Right now our focus is to strengthen the party at the grassroots. We are looking forward to being a part of a broad-based political front, having a common minimum programme," said Manjit.

Support base

Observers say that besides having the support of the cadres that are disillusioned with AAP, the Swaraj Party will also be looking at people who are a part of civil society organisations, and groups that follow a people-centric agenda.

Swaraj Abhiyan members have often said that their party will be purpose-centric, and not personality-centric like AAP. They have attacked AAP on the grounds that the party that came to power talking about decentralising power, giving power to gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas, but has stopped talking about it.

Suspended AAP MP Gandhi has been criticising his parent party consistently. "They have imposed Delhi leadership on Punjab which is unacceptable. Do they want to say that Punjabis do not have the capability to run a party here?" he said recently while highlighting a housing scam.

Suspended AAP MPs Dharamvira Gandhi and HS Khalsa are said to be 'well-wishers' of the Swaraj Party

He has made it clear that he will not resign as Patiala MP, despite his differences with AAP. "Why should I resign? The people have elected me for five years. I will work for good candidates to see them elected in the state Assembly," he said.

The AAP leadership has been saying that said that both Gandhi and Khalsa are welcome in the party, provided they abide by the party's discipline.

Will it have an impact?

The general perception among the political observers is that the formation of the Swaraj Party will have a negative impact on AAP's prospects in Punjab, since both parties have sprouted from a common ideology and both claim to represent the people who are disillusioned with the Akali-BJP and the Congress regimes in the state.

Read more: Arvind Kejriwal is 'unscrupulous', will join hands with PM Modi when it suits him: Prashant Bhushan

Political observer Baljit Balli said:"The launch of Swaraj Party is good news for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine in Punjab. The anti-incumbency vote will get split with this party entering the poll arena."

At the same time, people do not see it as a strong contender to form the elections. They feel that while both Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan are relative non-entities in Punjab, the party is yet to come up with a crowd-pulling face for the poll campaign.

They point towards similar experiments by the towering Akali leader leader Gurcharan Singh Tohra in 1999, when he had floated the Sarv Hind Shiromani Akali Dal, and Manpreet Badal, who had floated the People's Party of Punjab (PPP). Both were political disasters in terms of winning seats.

"We have not formed the party to damage AAP. Instead we want to take forward the idea of Swaraj that was earlier promoted and then abandoned by AAP," Manjit Singh said.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 31 May 2016, 4:59 IST
 
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