New Delhi: The crackdown of the Punjab government on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) critics such as Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga is seen within the party as an attempt to send out a strong message to those it sees as troublemakers.
Two senior party leaders told ThePrint that the crackdown by the Punjab Police on not only Bagga but also Alka Lamba and Kumar Vishwas — both former leaders of the party — should be seen in conjunction with the party’s current national push.
Buoyed by the party’s landslide in Punjab on 10 March, the party has its eyes set on Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, both of which will hold assembly elections later this year. According to the two AAP leaders, the party hopes to use the perception to help boost its image in the two states, currently ruled by the BJP.
“With such action against troublemakers, the party is grabbing headlines and it’s being taken seriously in places where it is expanding its presence,” said an AAP leader who did not want to be identified.
However, the strategy isn’t without its own set of critics within the AAP. Party sources told ThePrint that a section of leaders within the party was worried about the risks posed by the strategy.
According to the sources, this section voiced concerns about legal problems, especially at a time when the AAP is yet to bring any major reforms in the debt-ridden state of Punjab. This section is also worried about public perception of its ability to take on political rivals if the strategy were to backfire, sources said.
Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh, a senior leader of the party, said the party’s crackdown on detractors goes beyond mere politics.
“This strategy is more about setting the record straight,” Singh told ThePrint. “Such action exposes what kind of political parties the BJP and Congress really are, what kind of people they nurture. The recent episode (concerning Tajinder Bagga) has exposed that the BJP is home to hatemongers.”
Kumar Vishwas — whose relationship with AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal soured before the 2017 Punjab assembly elections — accused his former friend of supporting Khalistani separatists in a video that went viral just before this year’s assembly elections.
On 20 April, less than a month after the AAP government took over under Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, Punjab Police visited Vishwas and summoned him for questioning in connection with the allegations. Vishwas approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 2 May against the FIR and his arrest was stayed.
His former AAP colleague Alka Lamba, currently a Congress leader, was also booked over “inflammatory statements”. On 27 April, she appeared before Punjab Police, but no further action has been taken against Lamba, a senior Punjab Police officer told ThePrint.
Bagga’s case was by far the most dramatic of the three. Punjab Police arrested BJP Delhi unit spokesperson Bagga on 6 May. But as he was being taken to Punjab, Delhi Police — reportedly acting on a complaint from Bagga’s family — registered a case of abduction. Haryana Police, meanwhile, intercepted the Punjab team in Kurukshetra and brought Bagga back to Delhi.
Delhi Police comes under the Union Home Ministry, while Haryana is ruled by the BJP.
Bagga’s arrest came on the basis of an FIR registered against him for alleged criminal intimidation and provocative remarks against Kejriwal. On 10 May, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed Bagga’s arrest till 6 July.
Not everyone in the party is sold on the party’s crackdown against critics. A senior AAP leader from Punjab told ThePrint that the crackdowns were leading to a “legal mess”.
“That’s not really necessary at this point,” the leader said.
Another senior AAP leader said the new strategy meant that any mistakes could lead to potential embarrassment for the party.
“There’s no room for failure. That is a risk. If the party fails in taking any solid action against these critics after having launched a crackdown, there’s a high chance that the masses will start perceiving them as incapable of cracking down on larger political rivals such as the Badals in Punjab,” the leader added.
“These concerns get amplified at this point because the AAP has adopted this aggressive strategy at a time when its government in Punjab is yet to bring any major reforms aimed at mobilising additional funds for the debt-ridden state,” the functionary said.
AAP leader Sanjay Singh claimed the move was aimed at cracking down on communal hatred.
“These are the ones fanning the flames of communal hatred. And by acting against them we are acting against communal hatred,” Singh said. “They want to divert attention from issues such as unemployment, inflation, economic downfall, etc. We want to bring focus on these issues and talk about good governance and welfare politics. That is our larger political strategy.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)