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Divided AAP on tenterhooks as assembly session begins today

Khaira group will independently take on the government and Akalis on Bargari issue in assembly; says if new LoP Cheema tries to silence their voice, they will expose him .

punjab Updated: Aug 24, 2018 10:34 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Harpal Singh Cheema,Bargari issue,monsoon session
The Khaira faction having the support of eight of the 20 party legislators has also decided to boycott the legislature party meeting convened by newly appointed leader of opposition Harpal Singh Cheema on Friday to devise the party’s strategy for the three-day assembly session.(HT File)

The unsavoury infighting in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for control of the state unit in Punjab has kept the party on tenterhooks ahead of the monsoon session of the state assembly.

The squabbling factions – one loyal to the party’s Delhi leadership and the other headed by rebel Bholath MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira – have gone all-out to put down each other in the past few days. The Khaira faction having the support of eight of the 20 party legislators has also decided to boycott the legislature party meeting convened by newly appointed leader of opposition (LoP) Harpal Singh Cheema on Friday to devise the party’s strategy for the three-day assembly session.

Cheema had originally called the meeting on Wednesday and then postponed it following an objection from the rebel faction as it coincided with their rally, but it has not helped. The reason for the cleavage is Khaira’s unceremonious sacking from the post of the leader of opposition in the state assembly. While resentment had been brewing for sometime over the party high command’s reluctance to empower the state leadership and a slew of “arbitrary decisions”, a full-blown war broke out after Khaira was replaced with Cheema last month.

Khaira, who continues to breathe fire, said his group would not attend the meeting summoned by Cheema as he was “undemocratically appointed” without taking the views of party MLAs. “We do not recognise him and will independently present our viewpoint in the state assembly. Our attack will be on the (Congress) government and Akalis on the Bargari issue. If he (Cheema) does not give us time and tries to silence our voice to bail out the government, we will expose him, both within and outside the assembly,” Khaira told HT.

In response, a nonplussed Cheema, whose real test will be to ensure things don’t get out of hand and avoid embarrassment for the party, said he had invited all party MLAs to the meeting and wanted everyone to be there to decide the party strategy on Bargari and other important issues. On the rebels’ decision to have their independent strategy, he said this would be discussed in the legislature party meeting.

Though political expediency demands the two factions to jointly take on rival parties (Congress and SAD) on issues such as Bargari on which they think alike and fight their battles for supremacy on party forums, there appears to be no sign of an early end to hostility due to deepened distrust. However, Dakha MLA and former leader of opposition HS Phoolka is hopeful that all 20 party MLAs would speak in one voice in the assembly on the sacrilege report and issues of public interest. The government will table the contentious report of the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission on sacrilege incidents along with action taken report (ATR) in the state assembly.

The AAP, which had pushed the Congress government on the back foot in the first two sessions last year with Khaira leading the charge, was lacklustre during the budget session in March 2018 and failed to take the fight to the government. The party was done in by turmoil within following national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s apology to SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a drug charge-related defamation case just five days before the session. The Congress and Akalis, which have been accused of working in tandem sometimes, will again try to make the most of the lack of cohesion in the bedraggled party that had emerged on the political firmament by winning four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state and then positioned itself as a third alternative in its bipolar politics not very long ago.

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 10:34 IST