Aam Aadmi Party’s Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann will take charge as chief of its Punjab unit on Wednesday, 10 months after he resigned from the post in protest against party national convenor, Arvind Kejriwal, tendering an apology to Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia.
Mann had resigned in March 2018, a day after Kejriwal apologised to Majithia in a defamation case for making false allegations about the latter’s involvement in drugs trade. The party leadership in Delhi had not accepted the resignation at the time and though Mann did not officially function as the state president since then, yet there was an ambiguity regarding his status. He will be formally installed as the state president at a ceremony in Chandigarh in the presence of deputy chief minister of Delhi and Punjab affairs in-charge Manish Sisodia.
The decision to re-appoint Mann as the state president comes close on the heels of the party’s core committee unanimously rejecting his resignation and forwarding its decision to the national political affairs committee (PAC) for review last week.
Kejriwal’s fulsome praise for Mann’s role in the AAP at party’s Barnala rally earlier this month had left little doubt that the Delhi leadership intended to go to 2019 general elections with him as the state head. Kejriwal had also announced at the rally that the party will look forward to winning all 13 seats in Punjab under Mann’s leadership.
Senior leaders within AAP say that the public announcement in Barnala rally regarding Mann quitting liquor was also made keeping his re-appointment in mind. When Mann had been appointed state president in May 2017, replacing Gurpreet Ghuggi, there had been opposition from within the party’s senior leadership on account of Mann’s drinking issue.
Former AAP leader and president of Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP), Sukhpal Khaira, was quick to react. “An audio recording had been doing the rounds last year that Mann’s resignation and that of the then co-president, Aman Arora, was all a part of strategy of AAP leadership in Delhi. His re-induction does not really mean anything. The current deplorable state of the party is all because of him,” he said.
“With AAP in Punjab divided into two halves and facing challenge from the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) comprising dissident AAP Patiala MP, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, PEP president Sukhpal Khaira, Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) leader Simarjit Bains and the SAD (Taksali) leaders led by Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, we need a known face in Punjab who can galvanise the cadres. At present, Mann is the kind of leader in which Delhi leadership also has faith and he has a resonance in the state too,” said a senior leader who did not want to be named.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Leader of Opposition, Harpal Cheema said that as far as Mann’s opposition to Kejriwal’s apology is concerned, it is only he who can comment on whether he is now satisfied with the reasoning given for it. “As far as the core committee of the party is concerned, we felt that there was nothing wrong with the apology tendered in a court case,” he said.
Reacting to Khaira’s allegations, Cheema said that if Mann and Arora’s resignation had been a sham then he should have spoken out against it at that time. “All these thoughts have now come to his mind after he was removed from the post of Leader of Opposition,” he said.
Meanwhile, suspended AAP legislator Kanwar Sandhu, who is also the spokesperson for the rebel group of six MLAs, said the Mann’s reinstatement to the post only shows that the party has refused to learn from its mistakes. “Mann had resigned in protest when the Kejriwal apologised to Majithia. Since he has accepted the reappointment now, Mann should clear his stand on the issue. Does he feel that the apology was wrong or does he feel that his resignation was wrong? Instead of inspiring his team members by his actions, this is a classic example of a self-goal by the team captain and that too ahead of the Lok Sabha elections,” Sandhu said.
“It is unfortunate that the party continues to turn a blind eye to its well-wishers – the MLAs who spoke out in August last year – to save the Party in Punjab,” he added.