The manifesto gaffe has led to dissident voices in the Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party. At a recent meeting of the party’s campaign committee, some senior Punjab leaders expressed their disillusionment for being forced to cut a sorry figure over the party using a picture of Golden Temple with its poll symbol “broom” on the youth manifesto released by AAP national convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on July 3 at Amritsar.
Senior party leaders also told AAP’s in-charge in Punjab Sanjay Singh, who chaired the July 12 meeting, that the party should avoid playing the “religion and caste card” in the state. “The manifesto fiasco has validated the claims of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders and Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh that the AAP in Punjab is being run by outsiders who have no idea about state’s ethos or culture. While the points to be included in the youth manifesto were discussed at a meeting, no senior leader was taken into confidence on the cover of the manifesto. Relegating senior Punjab leaders to the back benches and keeping the Delhi team in the forefront could prove counter-productive,” a senior leader present at the meeting said on the condition of anonymity.
It was also said that the visits of Kejriwal to “deras” has dented the party’s secular credentials. “Kejriwal had lured youth and other sections with the promise of fighting corruption. But his visits to the deras and babas have not gone down well with Punjabi NRIs who had helped the AAP storm Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We cannot alienate one to please another,” said the AAP leader.
During his March visit, the Delhi CM had tried to woo Dalit votes by visiting Dera Sachkhand Ballan which has following among the Ravidassia community and dera of Baba Pargat Nath of the Valmiki community. In May, he had met Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale in Patiala after an attack on his convoy had claimed the life of his close associate.
Sanjay Singh, however, denied any rift in the party after the recent setbacks. “It was a general meeting of the campaign committee and everyone had put forth their views. Our structure is of a national party and leaders from all states are going across the country, be it Punjab, Goa or Gujarat. It does not mean we are undermining the local state leadership. It is Sukhbir Badal (SAD president) and state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh who are saying Delhi leaders are running the Punjab show, not our Punjab leaders and workers. Is Captain running the show in Punjab Congress or Sonia and Rahul Gandhi (Congress president and vice-president)?” Sanjay Singh questions.
On Kejriwal’s visits to “deras”, he said the AAP respects all religions and there was nothing wrong in visiting institutions of faith. “Unlike the SAD-BJP, we don’t use religion to fuel tension or divide and rule,” he added.
When questioned if this claim does not get dented by the alleged involvement of AAP legislator Naresh Yadav in Quran sacrilege , Singh said: “Yadav has nothing to do with it and he will come out clean. The main accused is a habitual offender with a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background. Will RSS act on behest of an AAP MLA?” he asked.
Punjab AAP convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur said it was decided at the meeting not to give in to provocations of the SAD-BJP and the Congress. “All leaders said any statement should be issued after due consultations. Like any national party, the AAP too has central leaders. But Kejriwal has himself said the Punjab leaders know the state issues better as it takes time for someone to get to know a new place better,” Chhotepur said.
On the back foot after playing the religion card, Kejriwal may be forced to rethink his “religion and caste politics” in Punjab as murmurs of discontent within the party grow louder. In his attempt to not allow any Punjab leader to overshadow him, many believe he has cut most to size be it Chhotepur, HS Phoolka, MP Bhagwant Mann or Sukhpal Khaira. But as the state inches closer to elections, he may be forced to cede more space to state leaders. As far as SAD-BJP’s bid to target it is concerned, the view within the party is more or less unanimous — the more Akalis come after them, the more public sympathy they gain.