Suspension of two of the four Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MPs from the party has come as no surprise as action against them was on the anvil with trouble brewing within the Punjab unit of the party after the Delhi Assembly elections. Both the suspended MPs, Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, have been speaking openly against the "dictatorial attitude" of party supremo Arvind Kejriwal through the party's Punjab unit convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur and party's Punjab in-charge Sanjay Singh.
Gandhi, who is an AAP MP from Patiala and has a huge following, had openly supported expelled leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan who had later formed Swaraj Abhiyan. Though Khalsa had backed Kejriwal at that stage, he too appears to be now inclined towards the expelled leaders. Of the two other party MPs, Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh, the former has been consistently backing Kejriwal, while Sadhu Singh appeared a fence-sitter for some time and is now believed to be back in the Kejriwal camp.
What must cause serious concern to the AAP is the fact that just before their suspension, the two MPs had convened a parallel political meeting at a short distance away from the "official" AAP public meeting at Baba Bakala, near Amritsar, addressed by its state party convenor and the two other MPs. According to media reports, the meeting addressed by Gandhi and Khalsa had evoked a much bigger and enthusiastic response and their suspension was announced shortly after that.
The rebellion in the state unit of the party had escalated when Kejriwal, who is known to crack the whip at any voice of dissent, had expelled the chairman of the party's state disciplinary committee Dr Daljit Singh for anti-party activities in July this year. Dr Daljit Singh, a highly respected eye surgeon and philanthropist, had unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections against Arun Jaitely and Captain Amarinder Singh from Amritsar and had garnered a good number of votes. His expulsion was followed by those of two other MP candidates of the party, Bhai Baldeep Singh and Jyoti Mann; the convenor of the party's selection committee for the Lok Sabha poll, Sumel Sungh Sidhu, and a prominent leader Manjit Singh, who was considered close to Yogendra Yadav.
In spite of the AAP's problems in Delhi, the party has been getting a good response in Punjab, which is due for Assembly elections in a year-and-a-half. The party had declared that its next conquest after Delhi would be Punjab. Its confidence stemmed from the fact that the party's candidates in the Lok Sabha election were ahead in 36 Assembly segments and had trailed at only the second place in about 25 of the 117 Assembly segments in the state.
At the heart of the turmoil within the AAP is the issue of who would be the chief ministerial candidate of the party in Punjab. Political observors have been pointing out that there are at least five contenders which include all the four MPs and the party's state convenor Chhotepur. Party insiders, however, have been maintaining that the party would not project any chief ministerial candidate and in a Modi-style, the elections would be contested in the name of Kejriwal. Obviously Kejriwal's nominee would then be the chief minister in case the party gains a majority in the state. There is no doubt that the suspension, and the possible expulsion of the two MPs from the party is part of the struggle of supremacy in the state unit of the party.
The rallies organised by the party continue to attract crowds in Punjab even though Kejriwal is yet to visit the state which elected all its four MPs. In fact, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who is looking forward to be the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress, has been saying that the "real danger" for the Congress would be from the AAP. Even the NDA partners, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are viewing the AAP as the main rival in view of the continued strife within the state unit of the Congress. The AAP is also confident about its performance owing to the fact that nothing much has changed in the state politics since the Lok Sabha election. People continue to remain angry with the SAD-BJP government, and may have got angrier since then, and the Congress continues to face serious infighting over the leadership of the state unit of the party. Any rift in the AAP, evidently, would provide relief to all the other parties in the fray.
The major grouse of the suspended MPs was that they were not made part of the decision making process by the party. In spite of the fact that all its four MPs are from Punjab, the state had no representation either in the political affairs committee or the national executive of the party. They strongly resented the appointment of Sanjay Singh, whom they call "a nobody", as the in-charge of the party's affairs in Punjab. Interestingly, after the two MPs had spoken against him, Sanjay Singh sent a text message on the mobile phones of all the four MPs asking them to submit to him their performance report within five days. This further incensed Gandhi and Khalsa who questioned Sanjay Singh's credentials to ask for the report. They described the party leadership as "childish" and also resented the restructuring of the state unit of the party undertaken by Sanjay Singh without consulting the MPs.
The AAP would now be in a fix to take further action against the two MPs. The party has been ruthless in taking action against other dissenters by expelling them, but a similar action against the two MPs would mean that they can continue to remain MPs in their individual capacity and cause a further setback to the AAP. The two MPs are certainly going to keep hitting at the central leadership of the party.
Yogendra Yadav has so far given a guarded reaction to the suspension of the two MPs saying it reflected the dictatorial attitude of Kejriwal. The suspended MPs have also not given any clear statement regarding joining hands with Yadav, but the common cause is likely to bring them all together.