A meeting of a group of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs, led by Sukhpal Khaira, called by state in-charge and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, ended in a stalemate in New Delhi on Sunday with Sisodia refusing to review the decision to remove Khaira as Leader of Opposition and the Khaira group insisting that the decision was undemocratic.
Among the MLAs who accompanied Khaira for the meeting were Kanwar Sandhu, Nazar Singh Mansahia, Rupinder Ruby, Baldev Singh, Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Jagtar Singh Hissowal and Pirmal Singh. Another supporter, Jai Kishen Rori was already in New Delhi for the meeting. Former Leader of Opposition, H S Phoolka, and former AAP MLA from Delhi Jarnail Singh also attended the meeting.
Speaking after the meeting concluded, Kanwar Sandhu said, “These people did not pay attention to what we had to say. It means that they have not heard the voice of Punjab and are not interested in hearing it,” he said. Sandhu said that their aim of coming to the meeting was to convince the party leadership that their decision to remove a LoP who was doing a good job was undemocratic.
Khaira said that by coming to the meeting, he and his fellow MLAs have demonstrated that they believe in dialogue and democratic norms. “I am indebted to the MLAs who are with me. They have set a new trend that they have supported a leader who has been removed from his post. We will take all of them along and will rid Punjab of the two traditional parties. We have also invited Manish Sisodia for our August 2 convention. AAP is not a party of any particular person. It is as much our party as it is of anyone else,” he said.
Khaira said that on August 2 it will be decided whether Punjabis have a right to decide on their own. “We still believe that Kejriwal and Sisodia are our leaders, but Punjab is as loved by us as India,” he said.
Another MLA, Nazar Singh Mansahia said that there was no question of accepting Harpal Cheema as the LoP as they are protesting against Khaira’s removal. Rejecting the Dalit card argument of the party leadership, he said, “
We already have a Dalit deputy leader of the party. We also have a Dalit as the chief whip. The post of state president is vacant. Why not appoint Cheema to that post,” he said.
The invitation for the meeting given to Khaira and his supporters was preceded by a meeting between four MLAs who acted as mediators and met Kejriwal and Sisodia a day earlier. The four MLAs — Meet Hayer, Kulwant Singh Pandori, Manjeet Singh Bilaspur and Jai Kishan Rori — impressed upon the duo the need to meet the MLAs who were annoyed at Khaira’s removal as Leader of Opposition and listen to their side of the story. Following this meeting, it was decided that Khaira along with his MLA supporters should be called for a face to face meeting.
These four MLAs were also present at the meeting Sunday evening.
Senior AAP leader Durgesh Pathak was also part of the deliberations in which Sisodia repeatedly asked for a cancellation of the August 2 rally called by Khaira in Bathinda. When Khaira and the MLAs refused to cancel it, Sisodia asked if he could also attend it. To this, the MLAs from Khaira group said he was most welcome to do so.
Earlier, before proceeding to New Delhi, the eight AAP MLAs who stand in support of Khaira held a meeting with him at a resort in Ambala. The MLAs discussed the strategy that they were going to adopt at the meeting with Manish Sisodia and they also convinced Khaira to come along with them. It was also reported at one point that Arvind Kejriwal would also be present at the meeting, but he was ultimately not present.
MLAs who have not come out in open support of Khaira were not called for the meeting. Sunam MLA Aman Arora and Budhlada MLA Budh Ram said they had not been called for the meeting. Budh Ram reiterated his support for Arvind Kejriwal and said that he stood by the party and there was no question of him supporting anyone else. He also said that he would not be attending the volunteers convention called by Khaira on August 2.
Earlier in the day, the state co-president of AAP, Dr Balbir Singh had made it clear to mediapersons that the convention called by Khaira in Bathinda was not an authorised one of the party and that he would not be attending it himself. Dr Balbir has also hinted at disciplinary action against those office bearers or public representatives of the party who attend the convention.
In another development, the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) president and Ludhiana MLA, Simarjit Singh Bains, dismissed Dr Balbir’s allegations that he was trying to split AAP. Bains said that he will only answer to statements made by Arvind Kejriwal or Bhagwant Mann and not to any “Pappu leader” of AAP as it lowers his stature.
AAP NRI teams declare support for Khaira
The Non Resident Indian (NRI) teams of AAP have expressed their support for Sukhpal Khaira in the ongoing tussle within the party. In a joint statement issued Sunday, the teams from USA, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia said that they were very disappointed with recent activities in AAP Punjab. “We all NRIs worked very hard for four years and tried to support all through fundraising efforts, walked as volunteers on the ground and executed calling campaigns to convince voters to vote for AAP. We have witnessed our big Punjab leadership shrunk to almost zero,” the statement said. The NRIs have requested AAP MLAs to stand by Khaira and be present at Bathinda on August 2 for the volunteer convention called by Khaira.