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Punjab’s Aam Aadmi Party and Its Political Self Goals

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey

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Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals
Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals, Flickr
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For a political party that was taking a serious shot at coming to power in Punjab less than two years ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to have gone wayward.

Despite the electorate in Punjab reposing trust in the party by making it the principal opposition in the first ever assembly polls that it contested in February last year, the party leadership in Punjab and in Delhi have brought it to a new political low with a series of flip-flops and self-goals.

The AAP, which has 20 seats in the 117-member state assembly, relegated the formidable political alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP to a humiliating third slot but is fast losing its votebank in the state.

In recent by-elections, be it for Lok Sabha or assembly seats, the AAP candidates have not only fared badly but had to face humiliation by even losing their security deposits.

In the Shahkot assembly seat bypoll last month, the AAP candidate got a mere 1,900 votes.

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey while the Delhi leadership of the party, including AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab in-charge Manish Sisodia, show wariness, indifference and even suspicion about the Punjab leaders.

Senior AAP leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira is known to shoot off his mouth on every matter. His recent comments justifying the ‘Referendum 2020’ propped up by foreign-based radical elements who are demanding a separate Sikh homeland, or Khalistan, has sparked a new controversy for him and the AAP.

Khaira, a former Congressman, has left the party embarrassed on earlier occasions as well.

Just about two years back, the AAP was riding high on popularity in Punjab and many believed it was all set to form its first full-fledged state government.

That was not to be Kejriwal and his core group of leaders seem to have lost interest in Punjab affairs for now. Kejriwal’s apology to senior Akali Dal leader and former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia earlier this year, which happened without even consulting the Punjab leadership of the party, led to resignations within the party with the cadres on the ground feeling disappointed.

AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.
AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.

AAP Punjab unit president and MP Bhagwant Mann, who has had his own string of controversies earlier, and co-president Aman Arora, resigned from their posts after Kejriwal’s sudden apology.

Kejriwal and other AAP leaders, in the run-up to the 2017 assembly polls, had openly accused Majithia of patronising the drugs mafia in Punjab. They even called him a “drug lord”.

When Majithia went to court in a defamation case against the AAP leadership, the Delhi leaders chickened out and Kejriwal wrote an apology letter to Majithia.

Offering apologies and doing voluntary service (kar seva) to atone for political sins is nothing new for AAP leaders.

The ‘Youth Manifesto’ of AAP, released before the assembly polls, carried a photograph of ‘Harmandir Sahib’, the holiest and most revered Sikh shrine of Sikh religion, with an image of a broom, the AAP’s party symbol. This led to a religious uproar in Sikh dominated Punjab.

Kejriwal and other leaders washed utensils at the Golden Temple complex to “atone” for the political and religious faus pax.

AAP leader Ashish Khetan compared the same manifesto to religious scriptures like Granth Sahib, the Bible and the Gita. The AAP had to again seek forgiveness for this.

The AAP’s stand on sharing of river waters varies in Delhi and Punjab, leaving the party embarrassed at times.

Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017
Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017

The electorate in Punjab, which gave four seats to AAP (out of 13 Lok Sabha seats), has been left disaapointed. Two of the AAP MPs continue to be suspended from the party for the last three years.

Also read: Dogfight in Aam Aadmi Party : The audio clip of Kumar Vishwas reveals the party is no longer for principles but for personal aspirations

If AAP is to revive its position in Punjab, its leadership — in Punjab and in Delhi — would have to take drastic steps to stop the erosion of its base. Otherwise, the party would end up being a one-time wonder. (IANS)

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Regional Political Turmoil Reflects India-China Rivalry

Recent differences between President Sirisena and his sacked prime minister over whether a container terminal at Colombo’s port should be developed with Indian investment also strained their ties.

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India. political
Maldives' new President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, center right, receives Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the President's office in Male, Maldives. VOA

Political developments in two tiny countries in the Indian Ocean region, Maldives and Sri Lanka, reflect the growing rivalry between India and China in the strategic region. A new government, which is resetting frayed ties with India, has taken over in the Maldives from the previous administration seen as pro-China. But political turmoil has engulfed Sri Lanka following the controversial reemergence of a pro-China leader on the political center stage of the island nation on India’s southern tip.

Optimistic of regaining ground lost to China in the Maldives in recent years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew in to the Maldivian capital, Male for the swearing-in of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as president, who won a surprise victory in September. Modi was the highest-ranking foreign leader at the ceremony held on Saturday.

Shifting ties

New Delhi was not disappointed. Solih signaled an end to the country’s pro-China stance as both countries expressed confidence in the “renewal” of their close bonds. The new Maldivian leader mentioned a “dire economic situation” facing the country due to the country’s growing debt with Beijing incurred as his predecessor signed onto a host of China-funded projects. “The damage done due to projects conducted only for political reasons, and at a loss, are huge,” he said.

Maldives. political
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (C), the president-elect of the Maldives, interacts with his supporters during a gathering in Male, Maldives. VOA

Meanwhile the head of the Maldivian National Party that leads the ruling alliance, Mohammad Nasheed, has said that the new government would pull out of a free-trade agreement signed last year with China.

The statements were positive for India, which saw its influence in the Maldives decline under Solih’s predecessor, and worried that a spate of infrastructure projects by Beijing could pave the way for it to establish a strategic base on the islands chain.

Modi assured the Maldives that New Delhi would help get it through its economic difficulties.

But even as New Delhi looks to rebuild bridges with the Maldives, observers caution that India will struggle to maintain its once predominant influence in its neighborhood amid growing Chinese presence in South Asian countries.

Chinese state companies already have large investments in the Maldives and thousands of well-heeled Chinese tourists pour into the country every year.

“As China pushes itself into the Indian Ocean region, one of the key drivers that all these countries are now pursuing is trying to maximize benefits from both India and China,” says K. Yhome at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

Sri Lanka, parliament, political
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Sri Lanka

Observers point to developments in another Indian Ocean country, Sri Lanka, where in 2015 the defeat of a pro-China leader Mahinda Rajapaksa brought into power a new administration friendlier to India under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

But in a hugely controversial development, Sirisena last month sacked Wickremesinghe, seen as more pro-India, and appointed Rajapaksa as his prime minister. Rajapaksa has twice failed to prove his majority in parliament and the move has attracted criticism from Western countries amid fears that it violates the constitution and is a setback to democracy in Sri Lanka.

Although the political tussle in Sri Lanka was largely triggered by deep differences between President Sirisena and Wickemesinghe, who led a fragile coalition, observers say the shadow of India and China is not far away.

Pointing out that a domestic crisis presents an “opportune moment” for big powers, Harinda Vidanage, director of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in Colombo says that “the larger context of the current political situation is clearly the intensifying India-China rivalry in countries like Sri Lanka.”

Others also point to the reemergence of Rajapaksa, who took the country closer to China during his ten-year rule.

Sri Lanka, political
A photo taken Feb. 10, 2015, shows a general view of Sri Lanka’s deep sea harbor port facilities at Hambantota. VOA

“The assumption is that whatever Rajapaksa does, the financial bill as it were will be met in some way by the Chinese,” says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, “The consequences of that of course is that it will push us further into the Chinese arms as it were.”

Rajapaksa had awarded a string of projects to Beijing including building a strategic port at Hambantota. In a bid to counter China’s growing presence, New Delhi also began bidding for infrastructure projects.

Also Read: Parliament In Sri Lanka Get Dissolved, President Calls For Election

However recent differences between President Sirisena and his sacked prime minister over whether a container terminal at Colombo’s port should be developed with Indian investment also strained their ties. Wickremesinghe, according to reports, wanted the project to go to India, President Sirisena did not.

Observers also say that although China has faced criticism that many of its investments under its ambitious Belt and Road initiative are driving smaller nations like Sri Lanka and the Maldives into debt, the Chinese offers of gleaming infrastructure continue to be an allure for smaller countries. (VOA)