The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Friday evening removed its Punjab convener, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, from the post and formed a panel to probe allegations of corruption against him. The decision by the party’s political affairs committee (PAC) in Delhi came over a reported video sting operation that has Chhotepur taking a packet of cash from a man, among other complaints.
The move by the party’s highest- decision-making body came hours after Chhotepur launched a blistering attack on the top AAP leadership for “conspiring” against him. While it did not name his replacement immediately, the PAC chaired by national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appointed a two-member probe panel of Jarnail Singh, AAP MLA from Rajouri in Delhi who is also co-incharge of its Punjab affairs, and Jasbir Singh Bir, head of the AAP grievances cell in state.
Watch: AAP MP Bhagwant Mann, special invitee to the PC, explains the action:
Earlier in the day, Chhotepur, addressing a press conference, demanded that the video be made public and, reiterating that he had done no wrong, said he is ready for a probe even by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
He went ballistic directly against Kejriwal, alleging that while the party had no faith in Punjabis, he had even been asked to put his Sikhi (religion) “at stake” by Kejriwal.
“When Kejriwal came for service at the Golden Temple to atone for the manifesto cover (on which party symbol ‘broom’ next to Golden Temple had led to a row), he asked me why I had told the media that I didn’t know of the cover until it was released. I told him I had only spoken the truth. He said I should have owned it up as my fault,” Chhotepur said.
“I explained to him that the Akal Takth, the temporal seat of Sikhism, would have declared me tankhaiya (excommunicated me). He replied, ‘Toh kya hua agar aap ko Sikhi se nikaal dete (So what if they throw you out of Sikhism?) I was shocked, Chhotepur added, “How could I quit my religion for which I once gave up a ministerial berth? After that incident, I think, he decided to treat me like this!”
Flanked by five of the 13 parliamentary zone coordinators of the party in Punjab, Chhotepur said, “AAP has no faith in Punjabis, and its leaders have no knowledge of Sikh traditions.”
Later, MP Bhagwant Mann rebutted this and said Chhotepur is trying to lend a “communal colour” to the controversy. Mann said, “It is very unfortunate that Chhotepur is resorting to such cheap gimmicks to defend his corrupt act. If he was so perturbed, why didn’t he react and leave the party there and then?”
Chhotepur again said the sting was orchestrated by his partymen even though “other AAP leaders have gathered lakhs in cash from NRIs”. Have they ever given receipts, he asked. “Let the CBI probe each of us. I don’t have to name the AAP leaders whose lifestyle has changed drastically ever since they came to Punjab. It is visible and well-known,” he told journalists later.
He accused national organisation-building in-charge Durgesh Pathak of forcing him to come out in public against his own party. “Pathak is in complete control. He hands out tickets and handles the funds... He walked out of a meeting in October 2015 and started feeding the media against me. Pathak divided the party.”
He said he had started raising his voice “only when people who had toiled for the party were ignored in the distribution of tickets”. “For me the party volunteer is supreme, but has been let down.” He added that his next course of action would be guided by the volunteers.
Hours after the press conference, Mann, who attended the PAC meeting as special invitee, announced Chhotepur’s removal and termed allegations against Kejriwal “unfortunate”.
The PAC examined the reported video clip and also took cognisance of other complaints filed against Chhotepur, said a party release. “Some NRIs and an Amritsar-based leader complained that Chhotepur had taken money from them promising to smoothen their joining the party as well the ticket for the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha polls,” said Mann.
The PAC decided not to appoint a new convener until the probe panel has submitted a final report about the “various video and audio clips”.