- Arvind Kejriwal had called Bikram Singh Majithia "Punjab's drug lord"
- His apology for the remark has provoked a sharp backlash within AAP
- Bhagwant Mann resigned, said his fight against drug mafia will continue
Mr Mann, who was appointed AAP Punjab chief in May 2017, represents the Sangrur parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha.
The apology has provoked a sharp backlash with the Aam Aadmi Party. A top AAP leader in Punjab called the retraction by the Chief Minister a "meek surrender" and another blamed him of letting down the people. Kumar Vishwas, AAP's sidelined leader too appeared to join them with a tweet yesterday that was seen to taunt Arvind Kejriwal.
"We're appalled and stunned by the apology of Arvind Kejriwal tendered," Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly said on Thursday, making it clear that the state unit wasn't in the loop.
"We don't hesitate to admit that we haven't been consulted on this meek surrender by a leader of his stature," Mr Khaira had said as AAP leaders in the state lashed out at the top leader for having allowed himself to be arm-twisted into giving the apology.
Arvind Kejriwal's sharp and repeated attacks on Mr Majithia during campaigning for last year's state elections was a central theme of the AAP's campaign that had accused the outgoing Parkash Singh Badal government of corruption and Bikram Singh Majithia, then the state's powerful and controversial revenue minister a "drug lord".
An attack on Mr Majithia was seen to be targeting the Badal family that had ruled Punjab for a decade. Mr Majithia is the brother-in-law of then Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal's younger brother.
As news of his unconditional apology broke out, AAP lawmaker Kanwar Sandhu tweeted his disappointment.
"If you stand for truth, facing defamation cases is a way of life I am still facing defamation filed by Punjab cable mafia. Will fight it to the end," Mr Sandhu, a former journalist, said.
AAP leaders told NDTV that the apology forms the template of how the party would deal with other defamation cases pending against the Chief Minister and other senior party leaders.
"Contesting Court cases is taking toll on already constrained resources of the party and individuals," AAP spokesman Saurabh Bharadwaj later said in a statement as the party scrambled to arrest the outrage among its supporters.
Ankit Lal, the party's social media strategist said the Congress government agencies had given Mr Majithia a clean chit. "So either you prove that Mr Majithia is guilty (which we can't in current scenario) or you retract," he tweeted.
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