Senior leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are involved in feverish preparations for the forthcoming rally of party’s national convenor, Arvind Kejriwal, in Barnala on January 20. The Barnala gathering will be the first political rally that the AAP supremo will address in Punjab after the ones he addressed in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly polls. It is also the first in the series of rallies that he intends to address in Majha, Malwa and Doaba to lift the sagging morale of the party cadre due to infighting.
Barnala has been picked with an eye on the AAP voter base in Bathinda, Faridkot and Sangrur constituencies as these fall in the Malwa belt which had given AAP maximum seats in the Assembly. The dates for his rallies in Majha and Doaba have not yet been finalised. The rally also comes almost a year after Kejriwal tendered an apology to Akali leader Bikram Majithia, which acted as a catalyst for the eventual split within the party ranks which took place six months later.
Senior leaders of AAP feel that Kejriwal still retains an appeal among the people of Punjab and that the damage done by the recent actions of rebel AAP MLAs — Sukhpal Khaira, who broke away to form a new party, and six others who continue to support him — will be undone by him. The party which had come into the new Assembly with 20 MLAs is now effectively left with 18 MLAs with H S Phoolka and Sukhpal Khaira having tendered their resignations from the party. The number is further set to dwindle with another rebel MLA, Baldev Singh, looking to quit the party and fight Lok Sabha polls.
Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema said that he and his fellow MLAs who are visiting villages to galvanise support for the rally are getting a “great response”. “People and the party cadre have great enthusiasm for the rally. People are coming forth and asking to be a part of the gathering as well as to to donate money for rally. This will definitely rejuvenate the party,” he said.
According to Cheema, the issue of Kejriwal’s apology to Majithia is dead. “People are not bothered by it anymore. The split in the party ranks has been unfortunate but barring one or two people we are in touch with the rest. They all want to come back into the party fold. People have realised what Khaira really wants to do,” he said. The LoP maintained that Khaira is not a challenge for the party. “Sukhpal Khaira has had the best opportunity in AAP and was given the topmost position. But he was not satisfied with it. Time will tell how his new party fares. You will see that in 2019 elections it will come crashing down and fare very poorly. There are serious doubts about his credibility,” he said.
Party leaders said that Kejriwal, during the rallies, will attack Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for failing to deliver on his campaign promises of jobs and farm loan waiver. He is also expected to point out the good governance steps taken by the Delhi government, particularly in the health and education sectors.
Sunam MLA Aman Arora said that Arvind Kejriwal still holds mass appeal among those in Punjab who want to change the system. According to Arora, there exists a political vacuum in the state which AAP can still fill. “If you look at it dispassionately, the Delhi model of governance is an eye-opener. As far as infighting goes, I do not think the situation is the same as it existed four to five months back,” he said.
Sukhpal Khaira, however, launched a vigorous attack on Arvind Kejriwal saying that “he was like those Afghan invaders who came to Punjab to loot and plunder and then went back”.
“He should first explain why he tendered the meek apology to Majithia. And Bhagwant Mann, who is now welcoming Kejriwal, should also explain to the people of Punjab what is the status of his resignation as party’s state president. AAP is now finished in Punjab and they will not be able to retain even their four existing seats. They are facing problems finding suitable candidates for Lok Sabha seats,” said Khaira.