Accused of comparing a manifesto to the Sikh holy book, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) spokesman Ashish Khetan skipped the first public meeting after being caught in the controversy. It was the ‘Bolda Punjab’ dialogue with farmers at Panchat village on Sunday near here.
Police have charged him with hurting Sikh sentiments at last Sunday’s rally where the party launched its youth manifesto for the Punjab elections. The former journalist even tendered a public apology the next day but rival leaders cornered his party over the issue. Punjab Dialogue committee head Kanwar Sandhu and AAP farmer and labour wing leader Captain Gurbinder Singh Kang met the farmers for their inputs to the manifesto.
“Khetan is busy in some party work and wasn’t even scheduled to attend this dialogue,” said Sandhu. Asked why the official invite then carries Khetan’s name, Sandhu said it was by error. He said the AAP didn’t care if the Shiromani Akali Dal had rejected the apology from Khetan. “We apologised to the public. The SAD government is trying to politicise the issue,” Sandhu added.
Told that Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder had blamed him for the manifesto “blunder”, Sandhu said that as head of the Punjab Dialogue committee, he took “complete responsibility”. “I am ready to extend an apology to Guru Granth Sahib and the public but we didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.”
Sandhu said the state government should respect all religions but it was sad that it had put up pictures of Goddess Chhinnamastika (a form of Durga) disrespectfully on the state-run buses. Farmers told the party what they wanted — minimum support price (MSP) before the sowing of the crops; bathrooms at grain markets; job reservation for poor farmers; and action to prevent suicide of debt-ridden farmers.
They AAP gave farmers a Jeevan Asha (helpline) number (098766-22018) to seek legal help in case of forcible recovery of loan.