Top leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab demanded on Thursday that state unit convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur’s removal over media reports of his “accepting bribe”. In a letter addressed to national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, 21 leaders -- including MPs Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh, and heads of various wings -- have asked the AAP’s political affairs committee (PAC) to immediately replace Chhotepur with an “honest” man. The PAC is meeting on Friday evening.
The AAP has been contemplating action against Chhotepur for taking a packet of cash in a reported video sting operation carried out by a party supporter, though the letter does not expressly mention the video, which was the very starting point of the current crisis in the rookie party.
The letter -- released to the media by AAP -- came within hours of Chhotepur announcing that he will hold a press conference on Friday on how “some persons within the party are trying to tarnish my image”. Not only is Chhotepur likely to be removed as convener, but may also be expelled from the party, barely six months before the assembly elections are due.
Reported first by HT, the sting video purportedly shows a person leaving a packet of cash with Chhotepur. Claiming that it was made only to embarrass him and had nothing incriminating, Chhotepur justified his collecting cash, saying it was routine gathering of “party funds” for running day-to-day affairs. However, a top, Delhi-based leader of the party had briefed some journalists on Wednesday that the video was made by an AAP supporter, and that it was “incriminating enough” to provide direct evidence of Chhotepur indulging in corruption. Action against him will follow soon, the leader had said. The party, however, refused to make the video public.
Meanwhile, hectic parleys marked Thursday for both sides. Chhotepur held a meeting in the morning with some AAP leaders, after which he put up on Facebook and Twitter the announcement about his press conference. Within hours of that, the letter to Kejriwal seeking Chhotepur’s removal was made public.
Party sources said the letter was read out to leaders who were not available to sign it and their consent was taken over the phone.
A part of the letter reads: “We are highly upset and disappointed to see media reports in regards to acceptance of bribe by state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur. For past few weeks there had been whispers across Punjab about his conduct and practices but his confession in an interview with Hindustan Times and also to some party leaders demands an immediate action by Political Affairs Committee of Party. The leadership and the volunteers of AAP Punjab urge to sack present convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur without any delay and to replace him with an honest person to take this movement forward.”
Those who “signed” the letter or consented to its contents include senior leader HS Phoolka, legal wing chief Himmat Singh Shergill, spokespersons Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Yamini Gomar, youth wing chief Harjot Singh Bains, women wing chief Baljinder Kaur, and Jagtar Singh Sanghera, among others.
In the ongoing internal tussle, Chhotepur had expressed objections over the two lists of candidates announced earlier this month, and has been waiting for an appointment to meet Kejriwal. He was absent at both press conferences where the lists, containing 32 names so far out of 117, were revealed.