Bhagwant Mann, the newly appointed president of the Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab unit, is headed for a bumpy ride. Before he can get down to boost the morale of party workers, which he has called his biggest challenge, the Sangrur MP has to brave the rising tide of rebellion within the party.
Just two days after Mann’s elevation to the post, the previous incumbent and fellow actor-comedian Gurpreet Singh Waraich ‘Ghuggi’ quit the party on Wednesday, announcing that he can’t work under a “drunkard”. Upset over his “unceremonious” removal, Waraich also targeted party national convener Arvind Kejriwal for carrying out a “futile exercise” before announcing the so-called majority decision.
The party’s Punjabi cadre has also criticised the manner in which Kejriwal anointed Mann on Monday. They say it’s like any other party high command imposing its decision on the state unit.
The party’s big faces in Punjab can be broadly divided into three categories on the basis of their stand on the issue.
First, there is the anti-Mann camp, comprising Waraich and Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the chief whip, who resigned from the post, though it has not been accepted yet.
Khaira was the first to raise the banner of revolt against Mann’s appointment and went to the extent of calling Kejriwal a “dictator”, while suggesting the party should have given the post to a more deserving leader.
HS Phoolka, who leads the party MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha, is among those who have preferred to maintain silence, tacitly backing Kejriwal’s decision.
And then there are the fence-sitters, such as Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu, who are keeping their cards close to their chest.
Sandhu, who was the party’s manifesto committee in-charge, wants introspection on the party’s performance in the state polls and fixing of responsibility, but has not hit out at Kejriwal directly.
LONER WHO DOESN’T CONSULT OTHERS
Mann is known to be a loner who doesn’t consult other leaders. Non-resident Indian (NRI) supporters of the party tried to scuttle Mann’s elevation last week when they wrote to Kejriwal against making him the state chief and termed him “greedy and narcissistic”.
AAP leaders have also cited Mann’s weakness for liquor with videos of him in a drunken state going viral. But Mann has reiterated that he can be thrown out of the party if he is found drinking. He was replying to Kejriwal remark, “He (Mann) won’t drink, and if caught (drinking) he will be sacked.”
Even the lack of transparency, which has been pointed out by detractors, has always been the case during the appointment of the state chief. When Waraich was appointed to the post, the party cadres and leaders were not consulted. The removal of Waraich’s predecessor Sucha Singh Chhotepur was also effected without discussion with party leaders.
A comedian-turned-politician, Mann remains a crowdpuller with his gift of the gab, but will it be enough to draw the support of party leaders remains to be seen.
WHERE THEY STAND?
HS Phoolka, leader of AAP in Punjab assembly: “The decision has been taken by following a democratic process. The alcoholic tag is a thing of the past.”
Aman Arora, co-president: “No better leader in AAP to lead Punjab. He is on course correction. I am sure things will be different now.”
Harpal Singh Cheema, MLA from Dirba: “All MLAs are with Bhagwant Mann. I have never seen him drunk.”
Sukhpal Singh Khaira, chief whip (resigned from the post, but it is still to be accepted): “Kejriwal functions like a dictator. What was the hurry to make Mann the state unit chief? There are other deserving leaders in the party.”
Gurpreet Ghuggi, former state convener (quit the party): “The way the party appointed Mann it seems to have lost all its morals. I cannot continue in such a party and cannot work under a person who has an alcoholic tag.”
Kanwar Sandhu, MLA from Kharar: “I remain committed to party, but it is important to speak one’s mind.”
Jagdev Singh, MLA from Maur: “He (Mann) should give up his (drinking) habit, as people rake up the issue repeatedly.”
Jarnail Singh, ex-MLA from Rajouri Garden, Delhi: “Mann was cautioned that in case he doesn’t change, the party would take strict action.”