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In Tajinder Bagga episode, signs that AAP could be slipping into old, combative ways

Sources in the AAP admit the Tajinder Bagga episode has cast the AAP in a mould that it had worked hard to emerge out of.

Written by Mallica Joshi , Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 10:01:59 am
BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga flashes the victory sign after returning home in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

For the past seven years, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has accused the BJP-run Centre of using security agencies to target political opponents and the Delhi Police, which is controlled by the Union Home Ministry, of allegedly foisting false cases against its MLAs in the Capital.

But last week, amid the high drama over the arrest of BJP Delhi spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga that led to a slugfest between the AAP and the BJP, it seemed that the tables had turned. This time, it was the BJP that accused the AAP of misusing its power in Punjab, where it is in power, to harass political opponents.

Sources in the AAP admit the Bagga episode has cast the AAP in a mould that it had worked hard to emerge out of.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has had a stormy relationship with the BJP since it came to power in Delhi in 2015 after sweeping 67 of the 70 Assembly seats.

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Within months, the Delhi CM’s office was raided by the CBI over allegations of corruption by his secretary Rajendra Kumar. Kejriwal hit out, calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “coward and a psychopath”.

Over the years, however, AAP mellowed, realising that attacking Modi was not giving it the electoral gains it wanted. “People did not want to see us fight. The BJP had managed to create the impression that we only wanted to fight and did not know how to govern. We course-corrected,” said a senior party leader.

In 2019, when AAP launched an aggressive campaign for the Lok Sabha polls, and didn’t manage to win a single seat, the final decision was made. Kejriwal stopped talking about Modi and spoke about the work his government was doing in Delhi and the ‘Delhi model’ of improving schools, hospitals and providing lifeline water and power for free.

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For its campaign in Punjab, AAP focused on the Delhi model and how it wanted just one chance to run the state. It worked and the party saw a landslide victory in Punjab.

However, according to a former AAP leader, the party’s conduct since coming to power in Punjab has been a “little immature”.

“When AAP swept Punjab, we saw senior leaders, including Kejriwal, taking the BJP and PM Modi head-on — something the AAP national convenor had not done since 2019. Till the Punjab polls, the understanding in the party was that people want to see Kejriwal talk about the work he has done, not see him attacking the PM,” he said, adding Kejriwal’s speech on The Kashmir Files in the Delhi Assembly, made days after the Punjab win, marked a clear departure from that stand.

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Attacking the BJP for promoting The Kashmir Files, Kejriwal had said “some people were earning crores” by exploiting the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits, while BJP leaders had been “reduced” to putting up posters of the movie.

The case against Bagga is for allegedly “making provocative statements, promoting enmity and criminal intimidation” over his tweet abusing Kejriwal on the CM’s speech on The Kashmir Files.

Some within the AAP admit that by acting against Bagga, the AAP may have ended up playing into the BJP’s hands.

“The question is, could we have handled the case against Bagga better? There are no two ways about it that Bagga should be acted against. But had the FIR against him cited some of his inflammatory posts instead of picking one tweet against the CM, maybe we would have been on a stronger wicket. All this criticism that is coming our way — that the AAP is also intolerant about criticism — could have been avoided,” said an AAP leader, adding, “Now if we don’t manage to jail someone like him (Baga), questions will be asked about our ability to act against the big fish.”

Said another leader, “Bagga is not a big BJP leader. He has some nuisance value for the state unit of the party but he didn’t get a lot of support electorally. But because of the Punjab Police’s action and the drama that followed, he has suddenly become bigger than he was just a week ago. The whole saga has made AAP look a little immature.”

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Over the past week, AAP has been busy trying to paint the BJP as a “goonda party”, highlighting that its youth leaders went on the rampage outside Kejriwal’s residence and that the party chose to felicitate them.

On Sunday, after Khalistani flags were put up outside the Himachal Pradesh Assembly in Dharamshala, with accompanying pro-Khalistani graffiti, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted, “The whole of the BJP has been trying to save a goonda, meanwhile Khalistanis have put up flags. How can the government that cannot save the Vidhan Sabha save people? This is about Himachal’s honour. The BJP government has failed.”

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Sources within AAP, however, say there is some discomfort over the combative stance the party has been adopting of late.

“Focusing on our work has helped the party electorally in the past and with two elections ahead of it, some party members feel that these things are working as distractions,” said a party leader who did not want to be named.

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First published on: 09-05-2022 at 09:58:25 am

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