WITH THE unceremonious ouster of Sucha Singh Chhotepur as state convener threatening to cause yet another split in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), its Delhi-based leaders have gone into damage control mode, meeting top AAP personalities in the state to placate them.
The effort appears to have been partly successful, with AAP spokesperson Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who supported Chhotepur at a press conference yesterday, issuing a statement Monday that his words had been “misconstrued”.
However, in further trouble for the party, six out of its 12 zonal coordinators in the state today extended support to Chhotepur and served an ultimatum to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to reinstate him honourably by September 1.
Khaira, who said Sunday that the party leadership should give more powers to Punjab leaders of the party, appeared to be backpedalling today.
“I stand by the words ‘unfortunate and sad that I used to explain the removal of Chhotepur, but that did not mean that I was throwing my weight behind him politically. I reiterate that I stand by the collective decision of the party pertaining to Chhotepur, but yes I did term the Chhotepur episode unfortunate as I felt so from my heart.” said his statement today.
He added: “I also stand by my logic that if the sting carried out against Chhotepur is the handiwork of any of our party leaders, then it is highly condemnable and those responsible for the sting must be taken to task. I also stand by my comments in regards to the role of Delhi observers. Therefore, I request that my views be put in the right perspective.”
Khaira’s clarification came after state affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh visited his house in Chandigarh’s Sector 5 along with legal cell chief Himmat Singh Shergill.
Khaira’s support to Chhotepur on Sunday had created ripples in political circles as it was perceived that Sikh leaders were losing confidence in AAP.
Khaira told The Indian Express that he had not issued Monday’s statement under any pressure. He said he stood by what all he had said but was opposed to the way it was construed.
Sources in AAP told The Indian Express that amid reports that Chhotepur was planning to form his own party — AAP-Punjab — with other AAP dissidents, Singh also contacted him to persuade him against the move.
It is learnt that Chhotepur was promised a clean chit in the inquiry but he is sticking to his stand stating he had been humiliated. AAP sources said efforts to placate him are continuing.
AAP-Punjab is an NGO registered by a member of the party’s Political Review Committee, Manjit Singh Randhawa, who has supported Chhotepur after his ouster. He is learnt to have initiated the process of registering it as a political party.
Singh today also met journalist-turned-AAP leader Kanwar Sandhu, who was the first one to subtly express his disagreement over Chhotepur’s removal. Singh is learnt to have asked Sandhu to help bring Chhotepur back in the party’s fold.
But Chhotepur seems to be in no mood to relent. It was at his place that the six zonal leaders of AAP who have issued an ultimatum to the party met to frame a charter of demands that they emailed to Kejriwal.
Led by Anandpur Sahib zonal incharge J S Dhaliwal, they demanded that the team of 54 leaders brought to the state from outside, including state incharge Sanjay Singh and national organising secretary Durgesh Pathak, be recalled from Punjab immediately.
In a statement to the media, Dhaliwal said these “outsider” leaders would not be allowed to function in Punjab and shown black flags.
Other zonal coordinators include Gurinder Singh Bajwa from Amritsar, Narinder Pal Bhagta Bhai from Bathinda, Amandeep Singh Gill from Gurdaspur and H S Cheema from Jalandhar.
The charter of demands also wants Chhotepur to be given all the powers to run the party in the state, including a say in allotment of tickets. It also includes a demand for review of candidates already announced, by a committee headed by Chhotepur.
Meanwhile, the inquiry ordered by the Political Affairs Committee of AAP to look into the sting on Chhotepur is yet to start with one of the members and Delhi MLA Jarnail Singh hospitalised. Jasbir Singh Bir, the other member of the two-member panel, said the probe has been delayed. He said the inquiry will start once Jarnail Singh would feel better. Chhotepur has already rejected the panel stating he would not appear before them.
AAP gags members
In view of the voices of discontent heard from all parts of the state, the AAP today asked its members to desist from making any media statement. A senior leader told Indian Express that it was witnessed that a number of leaders addressed press conferences after Chhotepur’s removal that sent out a message that party was in disarray. The members have been advised not to give any statements to the media.
Chhotepur calls meeting on Sept 2
Even as the party is trying to placate Chhotepur, he has called a meeting of his supporters at Golden Temple in Amritsar on September 2 to chalk out his future course of action. He is learnt to be of the view that he did not want to take any decision without asking his supporters even when it meant putting their career in AAP at stake. Sources close to him said that by scheduling his meeting he wanted to convey a message to AAP leadership that he had already decided not to be a part of AAP anymore.