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Dealing with discontent: AAP cauldron remains on the boil in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) goal in Punjab is to achieve victory in the forthcoming triangular election, but several problems have come to the fore lately that may mar its prospects.

Discontent has been on the rise among its ranks and its becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day.

Also read - AAP in a pickle in Punjab: suspended Patiala MP floats political front

That discontent can be seen clearly in Dr Dharamvira Gandhi's move to float a new political front in the state. The AAP MP form Patiala was suspended last year and so far, according to him, there's been no real clarity on why.

Dissatisfied cadres

The party recently announced two lists of 19 and 13 candidates respectively. On both occasions, fissures between the ranks erupted and the party has gone into damage control mode.

Detractors have insinuated that AAP is promoting 'parachute candidates' while overlooking the contributions of those who have been working tirelessly since its inception in Punjab.

The absence of state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur when both lists were announced, political observers say, was also a clear message to the cadres that the central command of the party is in control in Punjab.

That the central command of the party is in control has given rise to much of the discontent

Chhotepur has reportedly said that he has his reservations and he would take up the matter with the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. After the release of the first list, he had said that he was unhappy with the state of affairs but would not quit the party.

The 'remote control functioning' by the Delhi contingent working in Punjab is something that Gandhi had also raked up while announcing his new political front. He had said that AAP is no different from the BJP and the Congress as it is also turning out to be an equally centralised party. When it was pointed out to him Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann has been prominent at most AAP events, he replied saying that Mann is being used as a crowd puller.

Mounting problems

A week ago, the party recently went into fire-fighting mode along with a counter offensive after its member Pavitar Singh and his wife Lakhwinder Kaur alleged that party leaders Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak had demanded Rs 50 lakh 'donation' to give a ticket to Lakhwinder from Phillaur constituency.

The head of AAP's legal cell Himmat Singh Shergil then announced that the party would file a criminal and civil defamation case against the couple. He further said the party would sue any volunteer or leader who would level such allegations against the party leaders in future as such allegations defamed AAP.

"This threat of suing volunteers and leaders itself smacks of arrogance. It is true that the party is riding a wave and at this point it is simply not concerned about criticisms coming from within and this can prove counter productive in days to come," said a Chandigarh based political observer.

Disaster management

Meanwhile, Kejriwal has appointed journalist turned Delhi MLA Jarnail Singh as co-incharge of Punjab affairs and also as the party spokesperson. This development is significant since came on the heels of the allegations leveled by Pavitar and Lakhwinder.

Jarnail, famous for hurling a shoe at former senior Congress leader P Chidambram in the run up to the 2009 parliamentary polls on the issue of denial of justice to 1984 anti Sikh riots, has been propped up to ostensibly cut Sanjay Singh's influence and also provide a Sikh face to the party's campaign, observers say. The party is also in need of political faces. With Navjot Singh Sidhu's arrival into its fold in a limbo, Jarnail's induction in Punjab unit is being seen as a booster.

Post mortem

AAP's detractors have also been circulating messages on social media giving their analysis of the lists of candidates declared by AAP.

They have been pointing out the complete dominance of the Delhi team vis-a-vis Punjab leadership in the choice of candidates. They have also underlined the complete marginalisation of Chhotepur, while saying that Mann did manage to extract some pound of flesh in the first list while both his and HS Phoolka's candidates were ignored in the second list.

The detractors also allege that former leaders from the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and People's Party of Punjab (PPP) who have money have been given tickets while the AAP's old guard has got representation on reserved seats.

Though AAP has not said who will be CM candidate, many see HS Phoolka as a frontrunner

It is also being pointed that Phoolka has made a comeback to the centre stage after being in oblivion for some period. The crusader for justice for the victims of the 1984 anti Sikh riots is one of the most popular faces of the party in Punjab and also among the Punjabi diaspora abroad. Although the party is keeping its cards close to the chest on its chief ministerial candidates, many see him as a potential candidate. In fact, there have been campaigns supporting him, both on social media and in Canada under the tagline 'Phoolka for CM'.

The detractors have stated that some 'jugaadu' and 'purane purje' have managed to get tickets.

Rumblings and revolt

The release of lists was also marked by protests and revolts at several places with the party workers protesting the choice of candidates.

The party even witnessed the resignation of HS Kingra, who was the AAP spokesman in the past. Kingra reportedly quit after leveling serious allegations against the party leadership and particularly against the organisational secretary Durgesh Pathak. Kingra, known to be a close associate of Chhotepur, has now reportedly promised to give Gandhi his support for the new regional front.

In the process, Kingra once again opened the debate in the party on the issue of outsiders dictating terms in the party in Punjab. AAP's Lok Sabha poll candidate Bathinda Jassi Jasraj had recently raised the same issue.

Gandhi says AAP is no different from the BJP and the Congress as it is becoming a centralised party

After the release of the first list there were protests in Ludhiana and Bathinda. The release of second list was followed by protests in Amloh, Sultanpur Lodhi and Sahnewal. The vernacular press had carried pictures of AAP workers downing the shutters on their office in Amloh.

When pointed towards this trait that is otherwise associated with the Akalis and the Congress, an AAP functionary said, "Yes we do claim that we are different but the electoral processes remain the same and these are the side effects of the culture that has developed. It needs to be understood that when a party is in a winning position, there are more aspirants for tickets and when many of them do not get to fight the polls they are bound to get upset," the functionary said.

The AAP leadership is unfazed by these protests and sees it more of a media exposure. "We expect many more things to happen in the days to come as our opponents will be stooping to new levels," said the functionary.

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First published: 24 August 2016, 7:29 IST