In Punjab, AAP fights within and outside (News Analysis)

Chandigarh, Dec 14 (IANS) As the Punjab assembly elections draw closer, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leadership are grappling with a host of political skirmishes — both within and outside.

The party, which is the newest entrant on the Punjab political scene — dominated largely by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress over decades — is facing as much a challenge from its own leaders and activists as it is facing from the two better-established parties.

Breakaway factions, leaders and even volunteers are making things difficult for the AAP even though its national leadership, mainly national convener Arvind Kejriwal and senior leaders Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak, is still hopeful that the party will comfortably sail to power in Punjab.

The AAP started the year 2016 on an upswing, especially in the first quarter. Poll surveys and the party’s own political calculations gave it anything from 75 to over 100 seats in the 117-member assembly.

The ruling Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance, which has been in power in Punjab since 2007, and the Congress, were even feeling concerned at that time about the forward march of the AAP.

But in the second half of this year, the Punjab AAP virtually started imploding.

The party, which has refused to project a chief ministerial face for the assembly polls even now — giving credence to grapevine that Kejriwal himself wanted the job so that he could handle the central government and national politics from a better pedestal than Delhi — came to a situation that its Punjab convener and most visible face, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, was unceremoniously suspended from his post in August, which later led to his exit from the party.

Chhotepur, who nurtured the party right from the day of its conception in Punjab, was shown the door after the emergence of a video clip in which an AAP worker was shown giving money to him. Even before this, Chhotepur was being sidelined in Punjab affairs with Delhi leaders like Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak calling the shots.

As the episode unfolded, AAP leaders at the constituency and district level rebelled. Chhotepur, who accused the AAP central leadership of corruption in allotting tickets for various assembly seats, finally quit the party and formed a new political outfit — the Apna Punjab Party (APP). Chhotepur, who was once an Akali leader, and his party have vowed to “expose” the AAP and its leadership.

The AAP appointed actor-comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi with no political experience as its state convener in place of Chhotepur.

With each passing day, the AAP is facing rebellions. The Ludhiana district unit leaders left the party after the AAP announced an alliance recently with former Awaaz-e-Punjab front founders, Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjeet Singh Bains.

Two AAP MPs from Punjab, Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa, were suspended last August for questioning the AAP’s leadership style. Gandhi, a cardiologist and known social worker, is the MP from Punjab’s Patiala constituency, while Khalsa, a former diplomat, represents Fatehgarh Sahib in the Lok Sabha. Gandhi was also unceremoniously removed as the AAP leader in the Lok Sabha.

The AAP, which was rejected elsewhere in the country in the April-May 2014 general election, won four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, the others being Sangrur and Faridkot.

Punjab is the first full-fledged state where the AAP is testing its political fortunes.

The Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the Congress too are now making it tough for the AAP. Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are accusing the Akalis and the Congress of helping each other to keep the AAP at bay.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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