A day after controversy erupted over demands in the Delhi assembly to take back the Bharat Ratna from former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leadership claimed that it made no such mention in its resolution on the 1984 anti-Sikh violence.
The party also denied that any MLA was asked to resign – including Alka Lamba, who claimed that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had asked for her resignation.
According to Ram Niwas Goel, speaker of the Delhi assembly, only the original resolution – in which Rajiv Gandhi was not mentioned – was passed in the House. He also said that the one line added to the resolution about Rajiv, by Tilak Nagar MLA Jarnail Singh, was not adopted by the House and was not passed.
Conflicting news reports on Friday led to the widespread impression that AAP had passed a resolution asking to strip Rajiv Gandhi of the Bharat Ratna. Delhi Congress leader Ajay Maken said to media that the episode proved “AAP is B-team of BJP”, while BJP leader Vijender Gupta demanded that all AAP MLAs “dissociate themselves from the Congress”.
‘Gandhi’s name not part of original resolution’
Addressing a press conference on Saturday, deputy CM Manish Sisodia also clarified that Gandhi’s name was not part of the resolution that was passed.
Sisodia hit back when asked about Ajay Maken and Vijender Gupta’s statements, saying, “It would be good that those whose hands are stained with the blood of 1984 and 2002 riots did not speak in the matter.”
Keeping the doors open for a possible tie-up
Sisodia’s statement indicates that while AAP is in no mood to let the Congress off the hook, it does not want to undermine prospects of cooperation before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Like the Sheila Dikshit camp within Congress, several leaders in AAP believe that an alliance will ensure a victory in all seven Delhi seats, which were bagged by the BJP in 2014.
For the record, however, Sisodia said the mahagathbandhan, or the grand alliance to take on the BJP, only exists in media discourse.
Many in Congress do not want a pact
In both the parties, however, there are also leaders who oppose such an alliance – including Ajay Maken, who lost the New Delhi Parliamentary constituency in 2014. Many of the Congress’ former MLAs and ministers believe AAP is losing its footing in Punjab and Delhi. Its graph has shown a downward trend in both the civic body polls and by-elections.
They believe that a party that has failed to have any traction in states like UP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP should not get a chance to revive itself at the expense of the Congress.
Although Rahul Gandhi did not invite Kejriwal to his iftar party earlier this year, he shared a stage with the AAP leader last month, during the Kisan Mukti March in Delhi.
‘1984 resolution was carefully vetted’
Sources in AAP said the party wants to tread cautiously on the 1984 issue: “The resolution was very carefully drafted. The top party leadership vetted it. We basically wanted the word ‘genocide’ to be used for the 1984 riots.”
Dragging in Rajiv Gandhi was never the agenda, the source said. It was suggested by former law minister Somnath Bharti to Jarnail Singh, and the latter raised it. “However, any amendment should ideally be moved two days ahead and brought to the notice of the speaker. In some cases, the speaker can allow last-minute introduction. In this case, neither of these happened.”
Changes made in absence of Kejriwal, Sisodia
Neither Kejriwal nor Sisodia were present in the House when the mention of Gandhi was made. When media raised the issue, spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj clarified that the former PM was not named in the resolution.
However, MLA Alka Lamba is believed to have circulated a note, in which the hand-written line that was read out by Singh was typed out – creating the impression that this was part of the resolution. She also tweeted her protest at Rajiv Gandhi being named.
In response, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered both Bharti and Lamba to step down as party spokespersons.
For Lamba, an opportunity to exit
Lamba later claimed that she “got a message from the CM to tender my resignation over the issue of a resolution demanding the taking back of Bharat Ratna awarded to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. I’m ready to do so.”
She also tweeted: “I was asked to support the resolution demanding taking back the Bharat Ratna awarded to former PM Rajiv Gandhi. Since I didn’t agree to this, I staged a walkout. I am ready to accept whatever punishment is given to me.”
However, sources say Lamba never sent in her resignation. They also claimed that for the past month, she has been signaling a return to the Congress, and eyeing a Congress ticket to contest the Lok Sabha seat from Chandni Chowk.
The entire episode, they claimed, was an opportunity for Lamba to court the Congress, where she had been a member for nearly 20 years. Lamba started her political career as president of the Delhi University Students Union and national president of National Students Union of India. She later became general secretary in Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, and national secretary in All India Congress Committee. She quit the Congress to join AAP in 2013.
The Wire tried to get a response from Lamba on this issue and the copy will be updated if and when it is received.
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