HT Analysis: AAP’s ‘outsiders’ Sanjay and Durgesh finally exit Punjab, but confusion stays
Punjab AAP legislative party leader HS Phoolka, chief whip Sukhpal Singh Khaira and star campaigner MP Bhagwant Mann had upped the ante and again blamed the central leadership, or “the outsiders”, for the party’s Punjab loss.Updated: Apr 28, 2017 08:58 IST
It’s been more than six weeks since the Aam Aadmi Party’s disappointing loss in the Punjab assembly elections, but finally a humiliation in the Delhi civic polls became the trigger for Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak to resign as the party’s bosses for the state on Thursday.
The signs were there immediately after the party lost face in the elections to the municipal corporation of Delhi (MCD) on Wednesday. Punjab AAP legislative party leader HS Phoolka, chief whip Sukhpal Singh Khaira and star campaigner MP Bhagwant Mann had upped the ante and again blamed the central leadership, or “the outsiders”, for the party’s Punjab loss.
Uttar Pradesh natives Sanjay (Sultanpur) and Durgesh (Gorakhpur) had effectively taken over the Punjab unit in early 2015 — as in-charge and co-incharge — almost 18 months before the state polls. The idea was to reap dividends in Punjab — the state that had given the party all its four MPs in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls — particularly after the party’s historic mandate in the Delhi assembly polls in the February of that year.
By then, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, who had been picked by party national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, had built a structure for the party as the state unit convener. The Sanjay-Durgesh team brought along a 52-member team of observers from Delhi that spread out as an umbrella body over that structure.
Inside story a mystery
A dormant fight for dominance blew up when Chhotepur was removed in August 2016 over a “sting operation”, allegedly showing him taking bribe for a ticket. The “sting” was never made public, and thus the real reasons behind Chhotepur’s removal remain a mystery. After Chhotepur floated his own party — significant in the politics of perception — the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal raised the decibel level on labelling AAP as a party of outsiders.
Some local faces were given posts, but the duo continued to enjoy primary roles — Durgesh as final authority on tickets and funds to candidates, and Sanjay as the overseeing troubleshooter. Their dominance was even disliked by a number of candidates, but they said little or nothing, hoping for a bigger role in an AAP government.
Another section in the party kept raking up allegations of Sanjay-Durgesh taking money for tickets, but the party overlooked it all, not realising that opposition parties were cashing in.
All their doing?
But can the two be blamed for all the mistakes? A section of AAP leaders in Punjab is asking this question too.
For instance, the party faced serious flak from within for not announcing a chief ministerial candidate. But who could have been projected when prominent local leaders were competing with each other in being on the right side of the duo?
On seeing all others getting miffed with one given prominence, the party went into the polls on the back of Brand Kejriwal, but the bubble burst on March 11, the result day, when the party managed to win just 20 seats, plus two of coalition partner Lok Insaaf Party, as against its own claims of 100 out of 117. The Congress won a decisive victory with 77, though the AAP managed to become the prime opposition ahead of the SAD-BJP combined tally of 18.
Insiders and observers both have also pointed out Kejriwal’s flirtations with Sikh radicals, and theories of his own ambitions to become Punjab CM, as reasons behind the loss; and not just mismanagement by the duo.
Even party leaders in Punjab are not satisfied by the duo’s ouster alone. Khaira and NRI wing convener Jagtar Sanghera want more heads to role, and Khaira in particular has called for a “free hand” to state leaders. A roadmap for introspection and action is still not clear, and party leaders and volunteers remain confused. The resignations by Sanjay and Durgesh are the culmination of resentment within the AAP, but not the final solution to its troubles in Punjab.
‘Victory has many fathers, defeat has none’
While Durgesh did not dwell, Sanjay again denied that he took money in exchange of poll tickets. “There’s no proof,” he told HT over phone. On being blamed for the Punjab fiasco, he commented, “Victory has many fathers; defeat has none.” Advocating introspection now, Sanjay said he had worked “very hard” to build the party “but the results turned out to be a reversal”.