Chandigarh, Aug 26 (IANS) In the biggest internal setback for its Punjab unit just six months before the state assembly elections, the AAP removed its Punjab unit chief Sucha Singh Chhotepur from his post on Friday following allegations of corruption.
The political affairs committee of the Aam Aadmi Party took the action against Chhotepur, the Punjab AAP convener who had led the emerging party in Punjab for nearly two and a half years.
Chhotepur will now face a disciplinary committee of the party, comprising Delhi lawmaker Jarnail Singh and former Punjab bureaucrat and AAP leader Jasbir Singh Bir, regarding allegations of corruption.
Differences between top leaders of the AAP’s national leadership and the Punjab unit came out in the open on Friday with Chhotepur saying he won’t leave the party on his own.
“I will not leave the party. I have built it brick by brick in the last two and a half years. Let the party take action against me. I have done nothing wrong,” Chhotepur told the media here.
The AAP leader, who was the party’s most visible face in Punjab till now, alleged that he had been framed by a “conspiracy of my own friends” in the AAP.
Chhotepur’s comments came hours ahead of an AAP meeting in New Delhi, called to discuss the controversy around a video clip in which Chhotepur is allegedly seen accepting money from a party supporter.
The AAP leader told media that AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had made “anti-Sikh” remarks to him (Chhotepur) after the AAP got embroiled in a serious religious controversy when it published its election symbol “broom” with a photograph of the holiest of Sikh shrines Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state Home Minister, said on Friday that if any AAP leader or supporter submitted a complaint in writing to the state government for alleged bribery in ticket distribution (by AAP), the state government could probe such allegations after checking its veracity.
Taking a dig at AAP, Badal said that “all the rowdy elements out to make money have been given prominence in the party which resembles a bunch of rag-tag leaders”.
Chhotepur particularly blamed AAP national spokesman Durgesh Pathak for the present situation and claimed that Pathak was in “complete control” of the party’s Punjab affairs and was handling tickets to candidates, joining of leaders of other parties as well as funds.
“I am not such a light man to get sold over one or two lakh rupees. I have spent 40 years in politics and no one can raise a finger at me. There is a clear conspiracy against me by some people to oust me,” Chhotepur said.
He added that Kejriwal and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had not given him the opportunity to explain his side.
“It is unfortunate for Punjab (the present controversy). The AAP was the state’s last hope. Many tickets have been distributed wrongly,” Chhotepur said.
A few AAP leaders from Punjab on Thursday wrote to Kejriwal seeking action against Chhotepur following the emergence of a video clip on the purported sting showing an AAP supporter giving money to Chhotepur reached the AAP leadership in Delhi.
In the first two lists of 32 candidates released by the AAP, Chhotepur’s name was strangely not cleared for any assembly seat, leading to speculation that all was not well within the party.
He was also not present at both press conferences where the lists were announced by AAP leaders, especially of Sanjay Singh, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in Punjab.
Condemning the “dirty tricks resorted to by AAP leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana against the son of the soil Sucha Singh Chhotepur”, Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh said on Thursday that AAP leaders from outside the state had taken control of the party.
“Kejriwal has a history of using and throwing away people. He did it with his mentor Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, and Chhotepur is only the next and not the last in line,” Amarinder said.
The AAP is posing a challenge to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance and the opposition Congress in the Punjab assembly polls likely to be held in February next year.