The tussle for leadership in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab has surfaced once again with a section of the state leadership openly challenging state co-president Dr Balbir Singh and Leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Khaira, demanding a full house meeting of office-bearers.
Khaira has demanded that the full house meeting of the party’s Punjab unit should be called by Bhagwant Mann who has resigned from the state president’s position after Arvind Kejriwal tendered apology to SAD leader Bikram Majithia in February this year. With Mann insisting that his resignation from the post was finally and the party leadership in Delhi equally insistent that he continue in the post, Dr Balbir had been appointed as co-president to provide some steady leadership but he seems to have fallen foul of other senior leaders.
Among those who quit their posts are Karanvir Singh Tiwana, State Vice President and in charge of Patiala rural constituency, Pradeep Malhotra and Manjit Sidhu, both General Secretaries, Sarwan Singh, Jalandhar rural district president, Jagdeep Sandhu Muktsar district president and Malkeet Thind Ferozepur district president.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Balbir Singh said that the resignations had been made to state in-charge Manish Sisodia but they were yet to reach him. “Even before these have reached the person they are addressed to these people have gone public with it and this is nothing but gross indiscipline and a serious view will be taken,” he said.
The tense situation in the party has been simmering for weeks, particularly after a public showdown between Sukhpal Khaira and Balbir Singh at a press conference over his comments on the pro-Khalistan “Referendum 2020”. While the state co-president said that he had attempted to speak to Khaira regarding his comments and he did not answer his phone calls, Khaira refuted his assertion as false. However, the infighting has been compounded by the resignation of 14 office bearers of the party on Sunday accusing the co-president of biased behaviour has pushed the party further into turmoil.
Attempts were made to reach out to Sukhpal Khaira but he did not take phone calls nor respond to messages. However, in a tweet he said, “I urge Bhagwant Mann to summon a full house meeting of AAP Punjab office bearers to discuss large scale resignations and brewing discontent within party to try and bring peace so that we emerge stronger for 2019 polls”. When asked about Khaira’s statement, Balbir Singh said everyone had a right to express his opinion.
Another senior party leader and Kharar MLA, Kanwar Sandhu, said that in the midst of AAP campaign against drugs, the resignations by some ‘halka in-charges’ and others of party calls for immediate efforts to resolve the issue through dialogue and recounciliation.
A senior AAP leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the revolt has been sounded against Dr Balbir Singh by a section of office bearers who owe their loyalty to former state in-charge Sanjay Singh. “After Sanjay Singh fell foul of the state leadership in Delhi, the mandate given to Dr Balbir was to re-appoint office bearers who did not owe their loyalty to Sanjay. Since Khaira too does not get along with Dr Balbir Singh, hence he is taking this opportunity to settle scores with him and hence has called for a open house session,” the leader said. He added that it was not understood how Bhagwant Mann could intervene in the issue as there were reports within the party about him being in touch with a Congress minister for a possible switchover before 2019 general elections.
Meanwhile, unfazed by the criticism, Dr Balbir Singh made fresh appointments of office-bearers today. He appointed 14 state general secretaries as observers of 40 Vidhan Sabha constituencies and also appointed district presidents of Jalandhar rural, Tarn Taran in addition to ‘halqa in-charges’ of SBS Nagar and some Vidhan Sabha constituencies.