Bells Toll For Aap

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AAP appears to be losing the plot in Punjab, the only other state where it has a presence apart from Delhi. The state unit is divided as the central leadership led by Kejriwal’s confidants bring in people from other parties and deny local cadres their place in the sun.BY GAURAV VIVEK BHATNAGAR

In the early years of the 20th century, the founders of the Ghadar movement and revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh introduced Punjab to Left ideology. Left parties gained ground fairly quickly, raising issues dear to the working class, agricultural labourers and land tillers. It peaked in electoral terms in 1977 when these parties won 15 Assembly seats.

During the Lok Sabha elections last year, riding on the same support base, the Aam Aadmi Party made strong inroads into Punjab. With the Left leadership ceding space and the labour and agricultural classes coming out in its support, dark horse AAP with an excellent choice of candidates - won four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats polling a whopping 24 per cent of the votes. This was only a shade less than the 26 per cent polled by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), which also won four seats. Ironically, the Congress, which had polled the lion’s share of 33 per cent votes, had to settle for three seats.

But a year on the Aam Aadmi Party, which many believed had the potential to win the 2017 Assembly elections, appears to be losing the plot. Infighting in the State party unit has tarnished its image and it’s in the crosshairs of the Congress and the BJP-Akali combine.

While it still remains an “option” for the people of Punjab, tired of the wealth-accumulating leadership of the main political parties, AAP has done itself more harm than good in the last one year. Rather than building on the support of the Left leaning cadre, the party has left them confused and puzzled by showing the door to senior leaders like PrashantBhushan, YogendraYadav and Prof. Anand Kumar. AAP also sought to distance itself from its own MPs who came out openly against the action on the three Leftist leaders.

For his outburst on the issue, surgeon-turned-politician and Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi was removed from the post of Leader of the Party in the Lok Sabha and replaced with comedian-turned-politician and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, who wears his loyalty to Arvind Kejriwal on his sleeves. This had driven a wedge among the party’s MPs. Gandhi along with Fatehgarh Sahib MP Harinder Singh Khalsa and Faridkot MP Prof. Sandhu Singh, had in July questioned the central leadership’s decision to appoint observers for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab without consulting them.

The MPs had also stayed away from a press conference in Chandigarh where senior party leader Sanjay Singh had announced major restructuring of the party’s state unit. He had announced the constitution of 13 zonal teams – one for each Lok Sabha segment – under the leadership of party’s State convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur. AAP also announced direct monitoring of the activities in the State by 13 zonal-level and 39 sector-level coordinators from Delhi.

The central leadership had also reposed its faith in Chhotepur, declared that there would be no change in the State executive and he would continue as party convener. Sanjay Singh had made it known that the party would be focusing on the issue of drug abuse and the failure of the Badal Government to check the menace. He had also declared that failure of the State Government to address the concerns of the farmers would hold center stage in the party’s future programmes.

The decision of the party to drive the business in the state from Delhi has not gone down well with the MPs. Dr. Gandhi has been the most vocal and recently went on record saying that he endorsed the State Disciplinary Committee chief Daljit Singh’s view that “the (AAP) central leadership is acting in an authoritative and undemocratic manner to uproot all Punjab leaders, including party MPs.”

In a telling comment, Dr. Gandhi asked, “How can a party that cannot entertain independent views within the organization go on to ensure federalism in the country.”

That the MPs and Chhotepur are not on the same page also became clear when Dr. Gandhi charged that the Punjab party cadre was being ignored as new faces from other parties were being brought in without their political credentials being verified properly. He also signaled firm support for Daljit Singh, after he was served a show cause notice by Kejriwal’s trusted hands – Ashish Khetan, Pankaj Gupta and Dinesh Waghela -- for not “acting as per the constitution” and sending arbitrary notices to the state party leaders.

The rift in the state unit is now out on the open. Even the more restrained Fatehgarh Sahib MP Harinder Singh Khalsa, recently voiced his concern at Punjab leaders being ignored by the party. “Punjab was the saving grace for the party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as it gave four MPs when we drew a blank in the rest of the country. Punjabis should be trusted by the party leadership. But the new set of leaders is only challenging something that AAP has fought for — true federalism,” rued Khalsa, who had earlier too opposed the “increasing high command culture in the party.”

But for Mann, who admitted that AAP was a “Delhi-based party” and so needed “control for maintaining discipline”, the other MPs do not think alike.

AAP leader Durgesh Pathak said the party was only trying to “replicate the Delhi experience in Punjab” and was not imposing the central leadership’s will on the state. But the rumbling in Punjab gives the lie to that claim. AAP needs to listen to the state cadre if it is to avoid a potentially damaging backlash in 2017.

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