Thaw in the air as AAP extends olive branch to rebels

Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal Photograph:( Zee News Network )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Nov 12, 2017, 10.38 AM (IST)

Badly bruised by dissident attacks, the beleaguered Aam Aadmi Party is offering an olive branch to party rebels to mend relations and strengthen its position in the national capital.

The party has reached out to rebel MLAs Pankaj Puskhar and Devinder Sehrawat, a senior AAP leader said on the condition of anonymity.

"Yes, there is a positive development," Sehrawat said, confirming that there was a thaw in the hostility between the Bijwasan MLA and the party leadership. He, however, did not elaborate on the moves.

Sources close to Pushkar, who represents Timarpur, said his equation with AAP had improved and he had started attending the party and government events in his constituency.

"We are basically fighting the same force, the BJP. So it makes more sense to cooperate," Pushkar told.

Informal talks are being held with several dissidents, who are being persuaded not to take up positions against the party, the senior AAP leader said.

Talks were on with sacked ministers Sandeep Kumar and Asim Ahmed Khan who, AAP sources said, had turned "neutral" in comparison to their earlier hostile stands on party matters.

The sources said the efforts were bearing fruit, with Sehrawat and Pushkar backing motions mooted by the government.

In a special session of the Delhi Legislative Assembly in October, Pushkar came out in support of safeguarding the house panels of the Assembly when the Lt Governor sought to withdraw the powers of department-related standing committees.

Sehrawat, an ex-colonel, had been at odds with the leadership ever since it removed founder-members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from top party committees.

Known to be close to Yadav and Bhushan, Sehrawat was suspended last year when he accused some party leaders of "exploiting women" in Punjab, a charge put down by the party.

Khan was sacked by Kejriwal as the Environment Minister in October 2015 over bribery charges while Kumar was suspended after the surfacing of an alleged sex tape.

It was after a series of defeats in March and April that efforts at mending relations began, the sources said.

AAP was battered in the Punjab and Goa assembly polls, and later in the Rajouri Garden by-poll and MCD election.

After the electoral defeats, the party has been taking several steps to regain lost strength on the home turf. Among other moves, Delhi unit convener Dilip Pandey, who was at the helm of affairs during the elections, was replaced by Labour Minister Gopal Rai.

AAP also strengthened its frontal outfits such as its women's wing.

There was trouble brewing on another front, too. Sacked Delhi minister Kapil Mishra launched an all-out assault against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with bribery charges, which though denied by the party, severely dented its image.

There were even whispers in the party that Mishra and his associates could engineer a coup against the leadership.

To top it, Office of Profit proceedings were on against 20 out of the 66 AAP MLAs.

It was against this backdrop that the party decided it had to build bridges with those who were turning away from it. Informally, leaders started holding talks with the rebels.

In such a scenario, every MLA counts, a source said.

Sources close to Sehrawat said a senior party leader approached him when Mishra's attack on the AAP was at its peak, requesting him not to say anything that would further harm the outfit.
But the party top brass was unlikely to extend an olive branch to Mishra.

Kejriwal's former protege, who went on a hunger strike against the party leadership in May, had crossed the line, another AAP leader said.

"He made personal attacks against Chief Minister Kejriwal and even his family members. The attacks were below the belt and unacceptable," the leader said.

It's clear that Kejriwal is corrupt... Either he should resign, or I will drag him by his collar to Tihar jail, Mishra told reporters after he called off his hunger strike.

The rapprochement exercise only seems to be confined to Delhi. The party is yet to reach out to its two rebel MPs in Punjab---Dharamvira Gandhi and H S Khalsa.

Gandhi, one of the two suspended MPs from Punjab, termed the reconciliation effort a "trick", and said he had not been approached by the party in the last two and half years.