On a day when the Aam Aadmi Party suspended its Delhi MLA Kapil Mishra for alleging that party chief Arvind Kejriwal had accepted Rs 2 crore from a Cabinet colleague, faultlines emerged in its Punjab unit with the party’s chief whip quitting the post. Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s resignation came after a meeting between Kejriwal and the party’s Punjab MLAs on Monday when Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann was elected as convenor of AAP’s state unit. AAP had performed below expectations in the Punjab assembly elections, securing 20 seats in the 117-member House. Speaking to The Indian Express, sources in AAP’s Punjab unit, who attended the meeting in Delhi, described the session as “stormy” and said that Khaira had quit “in protest” over the decision to appoint Mann to the key post.
Sources said the outgoing convenor Gurpreet Singh Waraich, too, objected to the manner in which the change was announced. “Gurpreet said he was humiliated and that he could have been informed of the decision on phone and would have tendered his resignation. He said he had been defending the various indiscretions of Mann in public,” said sources. Sources said Kejriwal responded to Waraich’s remarks by saying that that he had warned Mann not to indulge in actions that cause embarrassment to the party.
Officially, however, the party sought to play down the rift with H S Phoolka, AAP MLA and Leader of Opposition in Punjab, saying that Mann was chosen unanimously and that “there was no face-off” over the decision.
Mann claimed that his appointment “was approved by an overwhelming majority with 98 per cent of those present” and that Kejriwal had rejected Khaira’s resignation. Khaira, however, confirmed his resignation in an official statement that sought to “set at rest different kind of rumours”.
”I have asked Mr Kejriwal to relieve me from the posts of Chief Whip and the Spokesperson of the party with immediate effect. I requested that these positions be given to leaders who are more deserving than me in the party. I am very happy to serve the party as an ordinary volunteer and elected representative of the people,” he said.
But Mann’s comments to The Indian Express indicated that Khaira was keen on becoming the convenor.
”Sukhpal Khaira was projecting himself as the new convenor but the problem was that there was no one with him to support his claim. In fact, he said Bhagwant is my younger brother and he congratulated me for having been appointed as convenor. As for his resignation, he said in the meeting that his work as an MLA was taking a lot of his time and that he is resigning from the post of spokesperson and chief whip. However, Arvind Kejriwal rejected his resignation by voice vote,” said Mann.
Sources said another AAP leader, Amarinder Gill, a member of the Panjab University Senate, also objected to Mann’s appointment, saying that the party needed a leader with “a good image”.
Kejriwal had called the 20 MLAs for the meeting along with nearly 70 other prominent workers of the party. Apart from Mann, Sunam MLA Aman Arora’s name was announced as co-convenor of AAP in Punjab while Jagraon MLA Sarvjit Kaur Manuke was designated as Deputy Leader of Opposition in the assembly.
AAP sources said the appointment of Mann was announced by Kejriwal after holding separate meetings with the workers. “It seemed that it was a premeditated decision and the meeting of MLAs was called just for the sake of it,” said a senior AAP leader, who was present at the meeting.
Sources said Khaira argued that Mann needed to share the responsibility for AAP’s poll performance in Punjab because he was the party’s “star campaigner” and had approved all the tickets that were distributed.
Speaking to The Indian Express, H S Phoolka said: “There was no face-off or anything and it was just that Khaira said that since the party was being re-structured the post of spokesperson may also be given to someone else.” He denied that Khaira or Wariach were upset over the appointment.
Mann told The Indian Express that neither Khaira nor Waraich had objected to his appointment.
”Arvindji said there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about Gurpreet’s abilities. He said it was Gurpreet and me who had done the major work during the run-up to the elections. Arvindji said that if anyone was responsible for the setback in Punjab, it was him as the national convenor of the party. We will all work together, strengthen the party and end all groupism,” he said.
Mann said that the party needed “a new structure” in Punjab. “I want that the term convenor should not be used and instead the word ‘pradhan’ should be used. We will appoint zonal pradhans and block pradhans also,” he said.