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Friends in Punjab, Foes in Delhi? Decoding AAP-BJP Ties Amid Amritpal Crackdown

The AAP-BJP coordination on the crackdown on Amritpal Singh has come as a surprise to many. What does it mean?

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"In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests."

This is a slightly reworded version of a quote from a speech which can be traced back to Lord Palmerston (John Henry Temple) — a mid-19th century British Prime Minister. But more than 150 years later, the quote may accurately describe the relationship between two national parties in India — the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

For context, let's look at two key political events which shook Delhi and Punjab over the last month.

  • On 26 February, Manish Sisodia, Delhi's deputy Chief Minister and one of Arvind Kejriwal's closest aides, was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the now-scrapped Delhi liquor policy scam. As Sisodia gears up to completes one month in prison, the AAP has maintained that his arrest is part of a witch hunt by the BJP, executed with the help of the central agencies.

  • Moving to Punjab, on 18 March, the state police launched a mega operation to arrest Amritpal Singh, the chief of Waris Punjab De — a pro-Khalistan outfit floated by actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu in September 2021. After Sidhu's death in a car accident, Singh, Dubai returnee, took over as the chief of the the organisation. The crackdown on Singh and his supporters was launched with the help of central agencies with several reports suggesting that the Union Minister of Home Affairs and the National Security Advisor were in the loop regarding the entire operation.

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This constantly changing equation between the two parties — who appear to be at loggerheads in the national capital and seem to work completely in tandem in Punjab — throw light on three key areas:

  1. AAP's Dependence on the Centre in Punjab

  2. Arvind Kejriwal's expansion plans

  3. Power dynamics ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls

Unlike Delhi, AAP Needs BJP in Punjab

One of the major poll planks of the BJP in the run-up to the 2022 Punjab state Assembly Elections was the claim that neither the Congress nor the AAP was qualified to run a sensitive border state.

In fact, even after AAP won the elections with an overwhelming majority, the BJP continued targeting the Bhagwant Mann-led government of being incapable of handling the security situation.

The AAP government's decision to revoke the security cover of at least 400 individuals, publishing their names on social media, and the death of singer and politician Sidhu Moose Wala also didn't help Mann's cause.

More recently, the BJP had been building pressure on the Punjab government to act against Amritpal Singh and his supporters, raising questions on the party's ability to handle the law and order situation in the state. This, especially after Singh's supporters attacked the Ajnala police station in Amritsar on 24 February, demanding the release of an associate who had been detained in connection with a case of kidnapping and attempt to murder.

"The Bhagwant Mann government bowed down in the Ajnala incident. It is not the Punjab Police which has failed. It was not the police which bowed down," said Sunil Jakhar, who was one of the many BJP leaders who accused the AAP of miserably failing to maintain the law and order situation in the state.

In such a situation, Mann's meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah on 2 March and the state government's subsequent crackdown on Singh and his supporters — at a huge political risk — clearly show that the party leadership understands that it is impossible to run a state such as Punjab without Centre's cooperation.

This is mainly because of Punjab being an agricultural border state, with huge debt and loans piling up. This means that the state is dependent on the Centre for financial assistance, without which it will become to manage the state's day-to-day administrative activities.

It must be remembered that even Captain Amarinder Singh had a very good working relationship with the BJP between 2017 and 2021, despite being a Congress CM.

So, while a battle for credit in the Amritpal Singh case is likely to begin soon, the AAP might not display the kind of offensive on Punjab affairs they way it does against the BJP in matters related to Delhi.

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'Delhi Model' Still at the Heart of Kejriwal's Expansion Plans

At a time when the crackdown on Singh and his supporters was in full swing in Punjab, Delhi Finance Minister Kailash Gahlot, in a tweet on 20 March, said that for the first time in India's history, the MHA has stopped the Delhi government from presenting its annual budget.

Several reports then quoted Home Ministry sources as saying that the AAP government's budget proposal had a high allocation for advertisement and relatively low funding for infrastructure and other development initiatives, which is why a clarification was sought. 

After exchange of barbs from both sides, the budget finally got MHA's approval and will be presented in the Delhi Assembly on Thursday, 23 March.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Kejriwal, while addressing the Delhi assembly, called the Centre's objection "unconstitutional and groundless."

"They have kept a group of illiterate people from top to bottom," the CM said.

This clearly indicates that the AAP is in no mood to let go of its good school-good healthcare formula to contest elections and the 'Delhi model of development' will be at the centre of Kejriwal's expansion plans ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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What Can We Expect As 2024 Elections Draw Close?

In his first statement on the situation in Punjab, Kejriwal asserted that the AAP is a party of "patriots and nationalists" and will "not spare" anybody working against the interest of the country.

"The action of the Punjab government in the last few days has shown that the Aam Aadmi Party is a staunch patriotic party. Those working against the country will not be spared," he said.

This is not the first time that Kejriwal has pitched AAP as a "nationalist" party. In the run-up to the elections in Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa — states where the party made significant inroads — AAP made its ideological positioning quite clear by invoking national security issues and drone threats in Punjab, and maintaining silence on the release of the Bilkis Bano convicts in Gujarat.

The current political dynamics in Delhi and Punjab clearly show how the AAP is testing waters ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections by trying to position itself as a 'right-wing, pro-welfare, nationalist party' — a pitch similar to that of the BJP.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Amit Shah   Bhagwant Mann   AAP in Punjab 

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