In Punjab, AAP Has Been Missing From Protests Against CAA and Delhi Riots

Critics believe the party is unwilling to give up its urban Hindu vote bank.

New Delhi: As Punjab continues to witness the statewide protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and targeting of Muslims during the Delhi riots, the state’s Aam Aadmi Party cadre remains invisible.

Soon after the three-day violence in Delhi, various students’ bodies and farmers’ organisations came together to protest, even burning effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah. The Naujawan Bharat Sabha even marched to the regional office of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) in Sangrur, directly blaming the Hindu right-wing organisation for the Delhi killings.

The state’s main opposition party, AAP, has been conspicuously absent. The other opposition party in Punjab, the Badal-wrested Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), is also quiet – but that is hardly surprising, given it is a Bharatiya Janata Party ally and its Lok Sabha member, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, enjoys a spot in the Union cabinet.

On Wednesday (March 11), two AAP MLAs, Baljinder Kaur and Budh Ram, held a joint media briefing in Bathinda and were confronted on their party’s invisibility in such protests. While the vociferous Kaur opted to remain silent, Budh Ram found an escape by pointing out that he had addressed one such protest in Mansa. He was pointing to the nearly month-long continuous protest sit-in of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) which he visited once last month.

At a seminar in Chandigarh, speakers on Monday (March 9) equated the AAP’s Delhi leadership with the BJP’s Hindutva ideology. It was pointed out that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had asked all the AAP candidates during the Delhi assembly elections to kickstart their campaign from Hindu temples.

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“If Modi propagates Hindutva, Kejriwal instructs his AAP candidates to begin their campaign from temples and also that they should learn and recite the Hanuman Chalisa as well, and then ask for the votes,” said political analyst and senior journalist Hamir Singh of the Punjabi Tribune.

“Gradually it is visible now that how the AAP is soft on Hindutva, simply because it does not want to lose the majority Hindu vote bank that has been consolidated by the BJP in the form of Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the country,” said columnist Sanjiv Pandey. “Remaining elusive on the issue in Punjab is a choice for AAP, which wants to keep the state’s urban Hindu vote bank intact in its favour.”

AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema, who is also the Punjab leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, said “it is for the seniors in Delhi to comment” when asked about his viewpoint on the party’s silence.

“We (AAP MLAs) spoke against the CAA in the Vidhan Sabha that had adopted a resolution against the CAA,” he said.

For AAP MLA Aman Arora from Sunam, the protests are of “no use”. “What have these protests brought forth? Nothing! The BJP is adamant after passing the law (CAA) that it is not going to step back,” he said.

“We cannot go and sit at every venue where the people lay their mattresses (for the protests),” he went on to say.

A day after the Delhi bloodshed began, a group of Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) activists went to the RSS regional office in Sangrur on February 25 and threw anti-CAA pamphlets inside the office premises, raising anti-Modi slogans as well. This was 10 days after the Punjab police had stopped them from marching towards the same RSS office.

“We cannot hold any expectation from the AAP to protest against the BJP and its policies, simply because this party is no different from the BJP when it comes to Hindu-centric politics,” said NBS’s Punjab president Rupinder Singh.

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“AAP also doesn’t want to lose its urban Hindu vote bank in Punjab by holding the anti-BJP protests,” he concluded.

After a March 9 massive protest rally in Ludhiana, one in the series of such ongoing events, Left-oriented farmers’ and students’ organisations and Muslim groups from the state have scheduled a March 25 state-level rally. They think it will be as massive as the February 16 congregation in Malerkotla.

Punjab is the only state outside Delhi with AAP’s legislative presence, besides its lone Lok Sabha member Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur. The party had bagged 20 seats of the total 117 in the February 2017 assembly polls when the Congress gained an absolute majority with 77 seats. The Akali-BJP coalition had got 18 seats, while the Lok Insaaf Party got two.