MLAs rally behind Khaira, but the party leadership would prefer someone else
Chitleen K Sethi
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Punjab leadership will meet on July 20 to choose a leader of the opposition for the state, a post lying vacant for over a week now following the resignation of advocate Harinder Singh Phoolka.
The ensuing internal wrangling, however, has once again, put the focus on the Delhi leadership’s stranglehold on the state unit. While a majority of the 20 MLAs are stated to be rallying behind former Congressman and Bholath MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira, sources say the party’s high command is looking for their “own man” at the helm.
Phoolka resigned on July 11 to focus on fighting the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases. The Delhi Bar Council had objected to Phoolka continuing his legal practice since the post of the leader of the opposition cannot hold an office of profit. Phoolka suggested that the party high command choose between Khaira, Sunam MLA Aman Arora and Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu to replace him. Other than these, Talwandi Sabo MLA Baljinder Kaur and Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh are also considered to be in the fray.
“The meeting on the 20th will be chaired by Arvind Kejriwal. All MLAs along with the party’s state convener Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur MP) and Sadhu Singh (Faridkot MP) will be attending. A decision will be announced after taking everyone’s consent,” Sanjay Singh, former Punjab in-charge and AAP political affair committee (PAC) member, said.
Sources within the party say that though Khaira is supported by at least 13 MLAs, he is not the first choice of the Delhi leadership. He is considered to be “too independent”. Moreover, he represents the chasm between the state and Delhi leadership. He has been speaking of the need for more powers for state leaders and many in the party head office feel that once he is brought to the forefront, they would lose control over the state unit.
Following assembly poll results in March, the AAP with 20 MLAs and another two of its ally, the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) had emerged as the principal opposition party. Phoolka was elected as leader of the AAP legislature party and became the leader of opposition.
In May, Mann was chosen as the party’s state convener and Arora his deputy.
Both Mann and Arora are perceived to be Delhi’s eyes and ears in the state unit. Former president Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi had resigned in protest.
“There is no democracy within AAP. Either you are the yes man of Delhi leaders or you are not needed,” he said.
Khaira, who had been made the party’s chief whip too resigned from the post.
Despite the fact that the party’s Delhi team failed to secure a victory in the assembly polls, they continue to control the state unit’s functioning. The first list of the office-bearers, which was released by Mann and Arora on Sunday, seemed to have been heavily influenced by Sanjay Singh. Those backed by the Delhi team have been given the lion’s share of the posts.