The camp of dissident AAP MLAs was divided over the resignation of Jaito MLA Baldev Singh, who was advised by several of them against taking the step “in haste”. The Indian Express has learnt that there is a split within the rebel group over the future course of action after formation of Sukhpal Khaira’s Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP). A rebel MLA, on condition of anonymity, said that both Khaira and Singh had been advised to wait, but both felt that the time was ripe for them to take the plunge and fight the Lok Sabha elections.
“We really do not understand how Baldev Singh will win in Faridkot under the present circumstances. However, Sukhpal and he think that they can pull it off and win in Lok Sabha polls. At present, none among us five MLAs is contemplating to leave AAP or join the PEP. We will give support to Khaira but that can only happen covertly and not in an open manner,” he said.
In the midst of all these developments, the spokesperson of the rebel AAP MLAs, Kanwar Sandhu, tweeted that people who switch political parties are “devoid of an ideology”. He made these remarks in the context of Congress leader Joginder Singh Pangrain joining the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
“Political leaders like former Punjab MLA Joginder Singh who left Congress to join SAD are a blot on the Indian electoral system, democratic values. While one may dissent but joining another party is ludicrous. Voters ought to reject such people who are devoid of an ideology,” Sandhu tweeted with the hashtag ‘politics today’.
Sandhu’s tweet was widely shared by mainstream AAP leaders on WhatsApp and was taken as an indication that the rebel MLAs were not inclined to join hands with Sukhpal Khaira in PEP and would rather come back to the party fold. When contacted, Kanwar Sandhu said that some people were making their own interpretations about the tweet and that this was made in the context of Congress and SAD. “Baldev Singh’s resignation from the party further underlines the fact that the party needs to seriously introspect on what has gone wrong and what is going wrong. It needs to think about why people are leaving the party,” he said.
The president of the newly formed PEP, Sukhpal Khaira, however, said that Baldev Singh’s resignation was a welcome development and now he will freely campaign for his party. He said this will also serve as a warning for AAP not to go after the rebel MLAs as a the party will then lose the post of Leader of Opposition (LoP).
A member of the rebel MLAs camp said: “The party may even have reconciled to the fact that they would lose the status of the largest opposition party and the designation of Leader of Opposition may go to the Akalis if the rest of the MLAs break away.” The rebel MLAs group which comprised eight MLAs when the split first took place in August 2018, is now reduced to five only. One of them, Garhshankar MLA, Jai Kishen Singh Rori, switched sides to re-join mainstream AAP while Sukhpal Khaira and Baldev Singh have resigned from AAP.
The post of the Leader of Opposition will remain with AAP till its numbers come below that of SAD, the next largest party in the assembly. As of now AAP is left with 17 MLAs in the House, while SAD has 14 and its alliance partner, BJP has three. However, to forfeit the post of LoP, AAP’s numbers will have to go below 14. This will happen only if four more MLA from the rebel camp quit the party or their seats.