The AAP is "fully committed to the INDIA" opposition bloc, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Friday, even as leaders from his party and the Congress are locked in a bitter row in Punjab over the arrest of MLA Sukhpal Khaira on drugs charges.
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Arvind Kejriwal - who this month played down talk of infighting in INDIA - sought once again to calm troubled waters. "AAP is committed to INDIA... AAP will not separate from INDIA alliance," he told reporters.
However, he also said his party remains committed to the war on drugs. "I have come to know Punjab Police arrested some Congress leader yesterday. I do not have details... you can get from the police. We have waged a war against drugs... I will not comment on any individual case but we are committed to ending addiction."
Mr Khaira's arrest over a 2015 drugs case has spawned a rapidly escalating AAP vs Congress fight. Both are part of the INDIA bloc that hopes to work together to defeat the BJP in this year's state and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. For the latter they were to hold talks to divide Punjab's 13 seats, as well as seven in Delhi and 26 in Gujarat.
Earlier today, sources said Punjab Congress leaders told their high command the AAP is "targeting" senior figures, and cited the arrests of ex-ministers Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and Bharat Bhushan Ashu, and ex-Deputy Chief Minister OP Soni. All three were arrested before Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who is now in police custody.
Amarinder Raja Warring, the Congress' Punjab chief, claimed he was stopped from meeting Mr Khaira. He attacked both Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and the police, and said Governor Banwari Lal Purohit had been briefed about the "false case" against Mr Khaira. "We can't be silent. We will fight till the end..." he declared.
In his first comments on the row, Congress national boss Mallikarjun Kharge said "if anyone does injustice to us, then we are not the ones who will tolerate it". "I will take its details... but whatever may be the case, if someone does injustice, they don't survive for long," he said.
The AAP has dismissed claims of a "political vendetta" and has insisted that Sukhpal Khaira's arrest is part of its "zero tolerance policy" against drugs. An AAP Punjab spokesperson said "sufficient admissible evidence" had been found. He blamed the earlier Shiromani Akali Dal government for not arresting Mr Khaira at the time.
As part of INDIA's plans, the AAP and Congress were to divide seats in three states - Punjab and Delhi (where the AAP is in power) and BJP-ruled Gujarat, which total to 46 seats. However, regional rivalries, at least in the former, spurred by tension over Mr Khaira's arrest, have left any deal on the brink.
Mr Khaira's arrest was significant as he has been particularly vociferous in protests against any deal with the AAP in the state. He is also Chairman (at national level) of the Congress' Kisan Cell and is therefore both a party office-bearer and lawmaker.
And it isn't just the Congress' state leaders refusing to play ball; Minister Anmol Gagan Mann has claimed "directions" from Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to insist the AAP will contest all 13 seats. The AAP defeated the Congress in last year's Punjab Assembly election - 92 seats to 18, a surprising and dominant win.
With input from agencies
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