By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, April 24 (IANS) The convulsions in the AAP have split the party’s leadership in Punjab, the only state outside of Delhi where it has made a mark in electoral politics.
The latest developments in the Aam Aadmi Party have put three of its four MPs from Punjab on the side of AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The fourth, cardiologist, social worker and Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi, is in the camp of ousted rebels Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
The AAP, which was routed across the country in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, won all its four seats from Punjab. AAP candidates were elected from Sangrur, Patiala, Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib.
Gandhi has been unceremoniously removed from the post of leader of the AAP in the Lok Sabha. His place has been taken by stand-up comedian as well as actor Bhagwant Mann, the MP from Sangrur.
In his characteristic style, Gandhi promptly congratulated Mann.
Other state leaders like Paramjeet Singh and Manjit Singh are backing Gandhi and the Yadav-Bhushan group. But those like Supreme Court lawyer and activist H.S. Phoolka, who lost the Lok Sabha election from Ludhiana by just 20,000 votes, and S.S. Chhotepur, the AAP convener for Punjab, remain with the Kejriwal camp.
The other two MPs, Harinder Singh Khalsa (Fatehgarh Sahib) and Sadhu Singh (Faridkot), who mostly remain low-profile, are backing the Kejriwal camp.
The tell-tale signs of things not being well in AAP’s Punjab unit surfaced when the party, which is looking for a bigger political space for itself in the 2017 assembly polls, opted out of contesting the assembly by-election in Dhuri.
The assembly segment falls in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, which had chosen Bhagwant Mann as its MP with the biggest margin of 212,000 votes just one year back.
However, in the Patiala seat byelection last year, the AAP support base among the electorate dwindled considerably within months.
The AAP tally in the Lok Sabha polls put it in the second spot among all parties, just behind the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine, which got six seats.
The AAP bagged four seats and the Congress, Punjab’s main opposition party, finished a poor third with just three out of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats.
After the parliamentary election, the AAP named Gandhi its leader in the Lok Sabha. His sudden exit and Mann’s elevation is bound to leave a bad taste among AAP leaders in Punjab.
Mann has courted controversies in the past with his actions and statements. But when the Delhi assembly election took place, Mann was one of its most active campaigners in the capital.
The AAP in Punjab is already divided. One of the founder members in the state, Manjit Singh, who was facing disciplinary action for some of his statements, has quit the party.
Other leaders at district level too are divided into rival camps.
While the AAP national leadership may not be paying much attention to the damage in Punjab, the state’s electorate which supported the AAP is definitely feeling cheated by the infighting.
“We had voted for AAP thinking the party would provide fresh ideology to murky politics. But they have ended up washing dirty linen in public. Their MPs are hardly doing much on the ground,” Rajbir Singh, a student of a private university near Patiala, told IANS.
The farming community, which had supported the AAP in Punjab’s hinterland, too is disappointed.
“They (AAP leaders) have such big egos and are only fighting. They seem to have forgotten their cause of fighting for the rights of people. Voters will never forgive them,” Ajmer Singh, a farmer in Fatehgarh Sahib, told IANS.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])