When the Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to be disintegrating, senior leader Sanjay Singh, a trusted lieutenant of party's national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, is holding political rallies across the state with an eye on the 2017 assembly elections. In an interview with Hindustan Times, he said the party's two suspended MPs - Dr Dharamvira Gandhi (Patiala) and Harinder Singh Khalsa (Fatehgarh Sahib) - had inflated egos that egged them to criticise the party's top leadership. "Every political party requires basic discipline to function as a cohesive unit," he said. On the leaked audio tape of Bhagwant Mann, he claimed that, prima facie, the Sangrur MP had said nothing to offend the senior leadership.
HT: What are the AAP's plans for Punjab keeping the 2017 assembly polls in mind?
Sanjay Singh: The party is holding rallies across the state under its 'Punjab Jodo' campaign. This will give us an opportunity to know the real issues of Punjab and people's expectations from the AAP.
What are the key issues the AAP will take up in run-up to the assembly elections?
Punjab is passing through a turbulent time. The menace of drugs has spread all over and taken the youth in its grip. The names of both Akali and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leaders have been linked with drug trade. The sand mafia rules the roost and the state of law and order is deplorable. Corruption in public offices is rampant and health services are in disarray.
How will your party tackle these issues in case voted to power?
The AAP will have a zero tolerance to corruption. Its priority will be to fight the drug menace and give the state clean, transparent, and accountable governance. Neither the Akali-BJP alliance nor the Congress deserves to serve the people of Punjab. The Congress has failed miserably even as a opposition, in spite of having a good strength of legislators.
Your take on MP Bhagwant Mann’s audio clip that has gone viral on the social media.
Prima facie, Mann has said nothing on tape to suggest he is against the party’s senior leadership.
While you are on a Punjab Jodo campaign, the AAP seem to be disintegrating in the state, with many senior leaders being shown the door.
Every political party requires basic discipline to function as a cohesive unit. Show me one party that tolerates indiscipline. If some senior leaders think they have the right to criticise the party's senior leadership publicly at every given opportunity on the pretext of freedom of speech, they are defeating a larger goal.
So, do you think Dr Gandhi and Khalsa indulged in indiscipline?
Of course, they did. Both have inflated egos that egged them to criticise AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal from public platforms. They even went to a parallel rally at Baba Bakala in Gurdaspur district. What message were they trying to send to the party and the people of Punjab?
They are suspended already, but what further action does the AAP plans to take against them?
The party has sought their explanation, and will decide based on their replies. I have come to know that Dr Gandhi plans to take the party to court for our step of suspending him and Khalsa for anti-party activities.
They say Kejriwal is a dictator and wants to run the Punjab party affairs from Delhi.
It is wrong absolutely. During the assembly elections in New Delhi, volunteers and sympathisers from Punjab were there in huge numbers to support the party. Similarly, we are here to support Punjab unit for the assembly polls. Who was stopping them (Dr Gandhi and Khalsa) from making party's organisational structure all these months. They were, probably, busy in other activities.
Do you think these incidents (such as suspension of leaders) spoil the image of the party?
To some extent, it does, but the people of Punjab are wise enough to know the reason behind motivated and mindless anti-party activities.
But the AAP also expelled Dr Daljit Singh, chairman of its disciplinary committee in Punjab, and Bhai Baldeep Singh, who had contested from Khadoor Sahib.
Dr Daljit Singh wanted to remove Sucha Singh Chhotepur as Punjab AAP unit convener, even though the party's senior leadership had appointed the latter.
A word out there suggests Kejriwal may be projected as chief ministerial candidate in Punjab.
I don't know who is spreading these rumours. Kejriwal is in Delhi for five years. To Punjab, we will give a home-grown leader who can serve its people.