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Arvind Kejriwal scores self-goal with apology, threat of AAP split in Punjab looms

Eighteen of 20 AAP MLAs met within hours of the apology, contemplated splitting from party and forming a ‘separate, independent’ group. The decision was deferred for want of consensus, but the threat is not over.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2018 23:59 IST
Arvind Kejriwal,Kejriwal apology,Bhagwant Mann
Punjab AAP and Lok Insaf party legislators hold a meeting to chalk out their strategy after Arvind Kejriwal tendered an apology to Bikram Singh Majithia, in the state assembly in Chandigarh on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

The apology tendered by Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal to former Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majithia for his drug charges is a self-goal.

The AAP chief’s act has triggered a revolt by furious state leaders in Punjab, pushing the party into its gravest crisis hitherto. They were not only caught unawares, it was a big loss of face for them as the party had centred its campaign for the state assembly elections on this issue. Also, Majithia, who is related to the Badals, was their ‘favourite target’ in election rallies in the run-up to assembly polls with Kejriwal leading the charge.

When 18 of the 20 MLAs met in the state assembly building within hours of the apology, they contemplated splitting from the party and forming a “separate, independent” group. A decision was deferred for want of consensus, but the threat is not over.

The state leaders, particularly AAP’s state unit president Bhagwant Mann, his deputy Aman Arora and leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira, are as much indignant over the regret expressed by Kejriwal as they are with complete lack of consultation.

But neither is this the first self-inflicted wound nor the first proof of lack of trust between the Punjab leaders and the central leadership of the party. Before the assembly polls, Kejriwal and his strategists had tried to run the state unit through their own “trusted people”, including Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak, who were dubbed as “outsiders” by the local leaders. When the party’s performance fell short of expectations, Khaira and others blamed them.

The newest crisis could not have come at a worse time as the AAP, which was a distant runner-up in last year’s elections, has had a poor run since.

The state unit did not have an observer for eight months following Sanjay Singh’s resignation in May 2017. Another problem has been total lack of cohesion among the leaders with competing ambitions who have been trying to outdo each other. That Punjab unit president and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, the party’s most popular Punjab face without a doubt, and leader of opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira, its most aggressive leader, are not the best of friends is no secret. They are on the same side now. And it showed in their showing in the subsequent byelection in Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency and civic polls in four major cities.

Kejriwal made his deputy Manish Sisodia the state affairs in-charge in December last, but before he could do something things have gone from bad to worse in the only state where the party had tasted success outside Delhi.

Known for backing the underdog, Punjab is where the AAP had won all its four Lok Sabha seats – Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur and Patiala – by getting 25% of the votes polled. The parliamentary polls are due next year. And this is the state where Kejriwal faces his toughest challenge in keeping his house in order.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 23:48 IST