The Aam Aadmi Party is busy trying to assess whether it has stung itself in Punjab. A sting operation that allegedly shows its former state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur accepting cash from a prospective candidate prompted the central leadership to remove him . Now, Chhotepur’s supporters in the state unit have demanded that he be reinstated immediately or they will split the party.
Chhotepur has dared his party (he is still a member) to make the video of the sting public. The Political Affairs Committee or PAC – AAP’s highest decision-making body – discussed a 12-minute video of Chhotepur’s meeting with Delhi’s deputy chief minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia before it decided to expel the Punjab leader.
In the video, AAP sources say Chhotepur admits to having taken money. Barely three hours before he was removed from the post he held till last Friday, Chhotepur said he was unaware of being recorded both times and publicly denounced the party for conspiring against him. A day later, even Punjab unit spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira decried AAP’s sting politics.
Sting operations have been integral to AAP politics since its inception. Originally, the party pitched them as a tool to unmask the corrupt to the common man. When Arvind Kejriwal first took oath as Delhi chief minister on December 27, 2013, he announced from the dais that people should use stings to trap corrupt officials. After coming to power, the party used sting operations to establish its image as a crusader against corruption.
Last October, Kejriwal held a press conference with Sisodia and announced that they had sacked Cabinet minister Asim Ahmed Khan after taped conversations revealed that he was allegedly demanding bribe from a builder. Kejriwal played a slice of the recording of an alleged conversation between the minister and a builder. He also announced that Khan had been dropped and the matter referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. “The Asim Ahmed sting would have hurt the party’s image if he hadn’t been sacked,” a founding leader of the party explained.
The party also contemplated similar action against Chhotepur but with an election looming large and the Punjab leader going on the offensive, it tried to play down the sting. Now, AAP is investigating whether the sting was a result of infighting in Punjab, a national executive member reveals.
AAP leaders have in the recent past used sting operations to trap and dislodge each other often reducing them to a tool for palace politics and not a means to expose corruption. In March last year, some AAP leaders went public with a recorded conversation between Kejriwal’s aide Bhibhav Kumar and journalist Chander Suta Dogra to build a case against Yogendra Yadav, who was then a member of AAP’s PAC. Yadav is now a bitter political rival of Kejriwal with his own party while Dogra is part of AAP.