Sukhpal Singh Khaira at a press conference in Punjab Vidhan Sabha | Getty Images
Sukhpal Singh Khaira at a press conference in Punjab Vidhan Sabha | Getty Images
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Around 12-13 AAP MLAs are expected to be present at a meet Thursday in Bathinda, where the group will raise the issue of autonomy of the Punjab unit.

Chandigarh: The Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to be heading for a vertical split Thursday with the party’s nine ‘rebel’ MLAs led by Sukhpal Singh Khaira openly defying the high command to go ahead with a volunteers’ convention in Bathinda.

Riding on the support of Punjabi NRIs and state volunteers, Khaira’s group is all set to make the Bathinda meet a public show of their ‘rejection’ of Delhi’s control over Punjab’s AAP unit and raise a demand for autonomy.

Khaira’s group is in an open confrontation with the party’s central leadership since their talks with Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia failed Sunday night. The group was called to Delhi following Khaira’s removal as leader of opposition last week. As Sisodia made it clear that the party will not review its decision regarding Khaira, the rebel group dug its heels in and said the convention will be held as planned.

‘Convention not party activity’

Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and Sisodia, who met their loyalists from the state in Delhi Monday, said the convention was “not a party activity”. Sisodia said party leaders and workers should “stay away” from the convention.

Harpal Singh Cheema, the party’s new leader of opposition, said the convention was being organised with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

In a video message issued Monday evening, Khaira said the convention was being held under the AAP banner and there should be no confusion about it.

“A party is not anyone’s personal fiefdom. Punjabis have contributed in making this party what it is. The convention is aimed at strengthening AAP so that it can emerge as a third alternative in Punjab politics,” he said.


Also Read: I swear upon God, I don’t know what the 2020 Khalistan referendum is: AAP leader Khaira


Khaira issued a poster Monday morning with pictures of Kejriwal and Sisodia on it asking party supporters to reach Bathinda in large numbers.

Change in agenda

Khaira and his group seem to be risking their political careers to organise the Bathinda convention. “I am not scared of getting suspended,” Khaira said Monday.

However, the risk is not a careless one. His group is hugely encouraged by the response their move has got on social media, especially from Punjabi NRIs and AAP supporters. And the agenda has now shifted from a show of resentment for Khaira’s removal to a demand for autonomy.

Casting the net as far back as the removal of the party’s first state president Sucha Singh Chhotepur in 2016 followed by Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi’s departure from the party to Kejriwal’s tendering an apology to Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia, Khaira has built a case for an autonomous unit of AAP in Punjab. And the idea is gaining traction.

“It’s high time we took the reins of our fate into our own hands. Vital decisions about Punjab are taken through phone calls and WhatsApp messages and then conveyed through tweets (by Delhi leaders). Is this the way Punjabis want to be treated,” asked Khaira.

Will numbers add up?

At present, Khaira has the backing of eight MLAs (out of 20). Some are sitting on the fence while the others are strongly opposed to him. However, it is said that most are under pressure from their supporters to root for autonomy.

AAP MP from Sangrur and former party president Bhagwant Mann’s tweet Monday voiced his predicament.

“I am saddened that the party made by our blood and sweat is in a crisis. The opposition would be rejoicing. But I am helpless as I have no authority and only MLAs have the right to intervene. Khaira is like my elder brother and a fearless leader. I hope he will be able to take everyone together and find a solution to this problem,” he said.

Sources added some MLAs are sending their supporters to the convention without coming out openly in Khaira’s support fearing a backlash from the Delhi leadership. But if the convention is a roaring success, they are expected to openly side with Khaira.

Kharar MLA and journalist Kanwar Sandhu, who is supporting Khaira, said during a press conference Tuesday that 12-13 MLAs have promised to be at the conference.

Khaira needs at least 14 MLAs to break away without inviting provisions of the anti-defection law.

LIP support

The two MLAs of the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) — the Bains brothers — have also extended support to Khaira’s convention. “LIP is Khaira’s party,” party chief Simerjeet Bains told reporters while overseeing arrangements for the convention.

Kejriwal chose to attack Bains with a tweet calling him ‘anti-Dalit’ for using the word ‘pappu’ for Cheema (a Dalit leader).

“Since Khaira and his group are getting enormous response to the call for convention, Delhi leadership is worried. First they call us B-team of RSS, BJP, Akalis and now anti-Dalit. They are so worried, they just want something negative to stick,” said Bains.


Also read: Punjab leader of opposition Khaira ‘justifies’ Khalistan referendum, AAP chief under fire


 

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