In any other political party, a worker has to rise through the ranks even for a block or district level post in the organisation. To get to a state or national level post is considered no mean feat as the competition is stiff and takes some extraordinary talent, work or connection to reach such a level in a political party.
But when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerged as a political outfit from its non-political avatar ~ India Against Corruption under social activist Anna Hazare ~ unlike other political parties, it had little time to create a proper party structure.
Punjab, the only state where AAP achieved electoral success outside Delhi, was no exception with the party hurriedly filling up the posts and politically ambitious small time politicians or workers queuing up to join the party and make use of its growing popularity in the election-bound state.
The unexpected success of AAP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls accelerated this process with even leaders and workers from other political parties, including the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal joining AAP.
But just about four years down the line, this quick rise of AAP in Punjab appears to be its biggest undoing. With no proper process followed for creating an organisational structure, the majority of those who joined AAP were ambitious and left the party as soon as they realised it is not going to serve their purpose.
This explains the fact that the majority of candidates who contested Lok Sabha and Assembly polls on AAP tickets but lost the polls are either in other parties or have left it for the Congress or the SAD.
Besides this, what has hurt the AAP in Punjab is the fact that mistrust has always existed between the party’s state and national leadership. The high command has so far tried to keep control of the Punjab unit and no state leader has been allowed to grow beyond a point.
Months before Assembly polls, then AAP Punjab president Sucha Singh Chottepur was sacked for allegedly indulging in corruption by taking money from party leaders. Being the state head, Chottepur was seen consolidating his position as a chief ministerial candidate which apparently didn’t go down well either with the party high command or the other aspirants in the state.
Chottepur was replaced by popular Punjabi actor Gurpreet Singh Waraich (Ghuggi) but he too was shown the door after the party’s poor show in the Assembly polls.
The party’s command was then given to Lok Sabha member from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann as president and Sunam legislator, and Aman Arora as co-president. Senior lawyer, HS Phoolka was made the leader of Opposition. But apparently these changes too failed to lift the morale of the workers and the exodus continued.
As all leaders appear working for different causes and the party now lacks any organisational structure in most constituencies, AAP had to witness embarrassing results with the party candidate polling just 25,000 votes in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-poll and just 1900 votes in by-poll for Shahkot Assembly seat.
The appointment of the new leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, didn’t help the party as he too didn’t show any inclination to take everyone along for the party’s cause and preferred to work on his own agenda.
Even more, his demand for autonomy to the Punjab unit and defiance made the AAP high command uneasy. To tighten its grip over the state unit, the AAP high command then appointed Dr Balbir Singh as new state co-president and gave him the responsibility of strengthening the party oaganisation in the state.
As Balbir Singh made his moves, he was seen as sacking rival faction leaders and appointing his favourites as office-bearers. A group of officer-bearers belonging to the Khaira group even resigned in protest against Dr Balbir’s alleged dictatorial attitude.
Even more, Dr Balbir publically took on Khaira over Referendum 2020 and the divide continued to grow till the former accused the latter of accepting money from party workers.
Days after this, Khaira was replaced as leader of Opposition by party legislator, Harpal Singh Cheema with the party justifying it as a strategic move to give due representation to Dalits in Punjab.
But this move has further divided the party with eight MLAs including Khaira rebelling against the undemocratic decision of the party. They have declared the Punjab unit autonomous and are creating a parallel organisational structure. Their ultimate aim appears to be to secure two-thirds majority for a possible defection and formation of a new party out of AAP.
Party’s most popular face in Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, has now volunteered to take control of the state unit and do everything to save the party from going into the hands of the Khaira group.
The majority of 20 MLAs are still with AAP and the Khaira group may not succeed in its strategy but the damage is already done. The party is in no position to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in Punjab when it won four out of the 13 seats despite a strong “Modi wave”.
Two of its Lok Sabha MPs, Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, have been suspended by the party. Gandhi has floated an outfit called the Punjab Manch which is expected to become a political party in the days to come. Chottepur’s Apna Punjab Party too contested Assembly polls but didn’t succeed. Now the Khaira group is also going the same way.