A faux pas by senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashish Khetan during the launch of the Youth Manifesto in Amritsar and by the party’s leadership in designing the manifesto cover are being read as the party’s lack of understanding Punjab where religious sentiment can be easily hurt.
While Khetan likened the Youth Manifesto to the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, the cover of the copy had a broom – the party’s election symbol – superimposed on an image of the Golden Temple with party supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s picture on the side.
Sikh pressure groups have not just protested against the two issues, but have also filed complaints with the Election Commission of India for hurting religious sentiments. Party leaders, though not seasoned politicians, have learnt from their experiences in Delhi and pulled out an old trick from their hat – of apologising instead of counter-arguing.
Khetan and other senior party functionaries have apologised profusely on both counts, insisting they ‘did not mean any harm’ and have been hoping that puts an end to the matter. “If you admit your mistake and apologise, it is the end of the matter. There is nothing left for the opponent to pull you up on,” a party worker remarked.
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The AAP’s core team that is replicating its Delhi model of Dialogue Commission, organisation building and poll strategy are all outsiders and not Sikhs, thus becoming easy game for the party’s political rivals. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP and Congress have often alleged that the party does not understand the ‘culture’ and social fabric of the state and the two recent incidents and the subsequent apologies are being seen as embarrassing ‘own goals’.
In its defence, the AAP dismisses the ‘outsider’ allegations and insists that the Punjab Dialogue Commission chief and veteran journalist Kanwar Sandhu, a Sikh and very much an ‘insider’, was the one to design the Youth Manifesto cover. Insiders maintain that it was partly an oversight and partly unforeseen. “If you look at the cover closely you will see there is the Golden Temple then the sarovar and then the party symbol. It is quite a distance away. Where else would we have put the symbol? But these things are made an issue before the elections and we do not want to fan the fire, so we have repeatedly apologised. Though on the ground people know that this is the ruling party’s petty politics,” said a member of the party’s core team in Punjab.
In Khetan’s case, the party has little to defend and agrees that he made an impulsive and unsolicited statement though with ‘no intention to hurt any religious sentiments’. That it was avoidable is beyond doubt.
To add to the existing trouble, there is AAP MLA Naresh Yadav’s alleged involvement in the desecration of the Quran in Malerkotla. For a party that was leading hands down in the poll surveys so far, such controversies do not bode well and it will now be for the party to get back to being on the offensive once again.
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