Punjab AAP factions spar over seats, efforts to broker peace in vain

The rebel group led by Bholath legislator Sukhpal Khaira expressed strong displeasure over the change in seating arrangement that pushed them to the back rows in the House.
Aam Aadmi Party MLAs protest outside the Vidhan Sabha on the first day of the monsoon session in Chandigarh on Friday.(HT Photo)
Aam Aadmi Party MLAs protest outside the Vidhan Sabha on the first day of the monsoon session in Chandigarh on Friday.(HT Photo)
Updated on Aug 25, 2018 09:05 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By, Chandigarh

The raging factional fight in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Punjab unit on Friday saw the party MLAs spar over seats in the assembly even as fresh efforts to bring a rapprochement between the two warring factions failed.

The rebel group led by Bholath legislator Sukhpal Khaira expressed strong displeasure over the change in seating arrangement that pushed them to the back rows in the House. A riled Khaira and other dissident MLAs termed the move as a “cheap” attempt to insult them and suppress their voice.

Leader of opposition (LOP) Harpal Singh Cheema, who had suggested the new seating arrangement of party MLAs to assembly speaker Rana KP Singh on Thursday, agreed to revert to the earlier seating plan before the day’s proceedings started, but it did not work as Khaira and other dissident legislators sat in the last two rows. The rebel camp has support of eight of the 20 AAP MLAs in the state.

Though the assembly proceedings on day one of the monsoon session got over within minutes, much of the action in the principal opposition party was seen outside the House and began early in the day. The meeting of the AAP legislature party convened by Cheema to devise the party’s strategy for the three-day assembly session was boycotted by the Khaira faction.

In the meeting, Dakha MLA and former LOP HS Phoolka urged Cheema to revert to the old seating plan, clear all misgivings on the issue. Thereafter, a fresh seating plan was sent, accommodating Khaira in the front row. As leader of opposition, Khaira, who was replaced by Cheema last month, used to sit beside the deputy speaker in the first row. As per the new arrangement, Cheema, Phoolka, Khaira, Sunam MLA Aman Arora and legislature party deputy leader Sarbjit Kaur Manuke will sit in the front row, said the new LOP.

Phoolka, 3 MLA’s hold peace talks

After the meeting, Phoolka, Manuke, Arora and Bathinda (rural) MLA Rupinder Kaur Ruby went to Khaira’s residence to meet the dissident members to inform them about the latest seating plan and ensure that all party MLAs be together in taking on the government and the Akalis in the House on the Ranjit Singh panel report.

“They agreed on having a common strategy on this and other issues of public interest. As Khaira had sought time from the speaker to demand that the duration of the session be extended, we said others, including Cheema, will also join them. While we reached the speaker’s office, they didn’t show up,” said deputy leader Sarbjit Kaur Manuke.

Khaira and eight other MLAs, including Phoolka, held a protest outside the assembly instead, holding placards and raising slogans, to press for their demand. When the members assembled in the House, the Khaira group MLAs – Kanwar Sandhu, Nazar Singh Manshahia, Baldev Singh, Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Jagtar Singh Hissowal, Jai Krishan Singh Rodi and Pirmal Singh — sat on the back benches.

The Bholath MLA said they first humiliated the members and then tried to make amends by saying that he could sit in front row. “They have shown their narrow thinking. Does politics run like this? Why should I sit with these people? I will sit with my colleagues who have been sent to the last rows. The seat arrangement is not an issue for us as we are here to raise issues of Punjab and its people,” Khaira said.

On the unity efforts, he said they were saying one thing on camera and doing the opposite. “Are MLAs rubberstamps? If they want unity, they should accept resolutions passed at our Bathinda convention. As for common strategy, they can join us. The cadres are with us and they are only office-bearers,” he said.

Cheema, whose appointment as LOP last month had triggered rebellion by the latter’s supporters, said that the issues, not seats, were important as all MLAs had the right to express their opinion irrespective of in which row they sit. “The idea of changing the seats was to give opportunity to others as well, but we have reverted to the old arrangement. Only my seat has been changed. And, it is his (Khaira’s) narrow-mindedness that makes him act in this manner,” he said in response to the rebel leader’s charges.

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