Bhagwant Mann & Raghav Chadha: What’s up with AAP : The Tribune India

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PUNJABI TADKA

Bhagwant Mann & Raghav Chadha: What’s up with AAP

Bhagwant Mann & Raghav  Chadha: What’s up with AAP

Raghav Chadha’s government house in Sector 2, Chandigarh, just a few hundred metres away from the residence of the CM, was a beehive of activity during the course of his stay.



RUCHIKA M KHANNA

Only in the middle of last week, Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab, Raghav Chadha, flew to Chandigarh. His plush government house in Sector 2, just a few hundred metres away from the residence of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, was a beehive of activity during the course of his stay. 

As resentment in the rank and file of the state unit of party was brimming to the surface in the wake of the party’s electoral performance in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls, many top leaders of the party had started swarming to Chadha's residence. This reportedly created some unease in the house of the CM next door.

After all, Chadha, till a few months ago, before his sudden departure and rather prolonged stay in the UK, was regarded as a parallel centre of power in the state. But his absence meant that his influence has waned Punjab, so much so that his visit to the city, just after his return to India in May, failed to evoke any significant response. Last week’s visit seems to be an attempt to resurrect his position in the state. 

Many top party leaders, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Tribune that they feared that a close watch was being kept on who was visiting Chadha, and for how long. So much so that a senior political functionary, fearing that his movements may be monitored, drove out of his own home in his aide's private car to avoid being noticed. The political functionary admitted that he wasn’t fully sure whether his apprehensions were justified, but that he was taking precautions just in case they were.

This is just a small example of the trust deficit that exists in the Aam Aadmi Party government today. It seems as if this trust deficit operates across the board — between members of the Punjab Cabinet, between ministers and MLAs, and between ministers and bureaucrats. 

Moreover, there is the regional divide, bias and mistrust — between “Dilliwale” (a reference to the party's functionaries and their chosen ones from Delhi posted here) and “Apne Punjabi”.  A senior IAS officer, posted in Delhi, has been without a posting for months, simply because one centre of power believes that he is close to the other. The list of bureaucrats without postings is only getting longer. Another senior (now retired) bureaucrat, once said to be close to CM Mann, is believed to have been “ignored” for a post-retirement job in the few top Commissions which need new chairmen, reportedly because “Delhi” would not clear his name for an appointment to the Right to Service Commission or the Punjab Public Service Commission. 

In a recent interview with The Tribune, AAP chief spokesperson and Anandpur Sahib MP-elect Malvinder Singh Kang said that the “bureaucracy did the party in” — a reflection of the lack of trust between the political and the executive. The more worrying thing for the ruling party is the alleged and simmering tension with the state's police force. Earlier this week, CM Mann said that “some low ranking” police officials were in cahoots with drug smugglers, which is why his government was transferring 10,000 cops to police stations in other police ranges. Within days, apparently realising that this statement could affect the morale of his force, DGP Gaurav Yadav told The Tribune that the transfers were made on administrative grounds. 

Clearly, this lack of trust is affecting governance and leading to poor implementation of government schemes. A case in point is the AAP government’s flagship scheme, the Doorstep Delivery of Rations. As long back as April 2022, soon after he became chief minister, Mann had announced that the scheme would be launched. But it remained on the drawing board for months, facing bureaucratic and legal hurdles, while aspersions were cast on bureaucrats who were replaced one after another. Finally, the scheme was rolled out this year, but its poor implementation seems to have backfired (politically), when it became an election issue in multiple rural Dalit pockets in each Lok Sabha constituency. The ruling party was not able to take a lead in these Assembly segments. 

When any political party rules a state as emotive and quick to react as Punjab, things can go awry. But most previous governments have dealt better with provocations because chief ministers have been fairly independent of their party bosses in Delhi — or perhaps because a core group of ministers was on call to thresh out issues.

This AAP government is different, probably because the party is young, or because its most important leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has been in jail for several weeks — as a result, the party seems to be in perpetual crisis mode. Some complain they have no access to the CM and that a “gatekeeper” political aide controls access to the CMR (short-form for the CM residence). Others point out that Sunita Kejriwal is becoming the eyes and ears of her jailed husband in Delhi. The question now is, could she become an alternative power centre if the Enforcement Directorate gets its way and Kejriwal remains in jail for a long period?

Perhaps the one group within AAP that is stabilising the party is its twice-elected MLAs and old-timers. They sit in the eye of the current storm,  keenly aware that the rumour mill is churning out unconfirmed reports, including those about a “rejig at the top”. They appear unfazed, but privately admit they are concerned. Their favourite public quote? Sab changa hai.

#Aam Aadmi Party AAP #Bhagwant Mann #Raghav Chadha #Rajya Sabha


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