The recent backlash from the Punjab unit of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over Arvind Kejriwal’s apology letter to former state Cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia shows that the damage inflicted to the party could be irreparable in Punjab. AAP had managed to win as many as 20 MLAs in the Punjab assembly elections held in 2017. A day after Arvind Kejriwal tendered apology over his comment on the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia, Bhagwant Mann the AAP president in Punjab, resigned from his post.Kejriwal, this past Thursday, had tendered an apology for his statements made against Majithia last year, in an Amritsar court. In his written apology letter Kejriwal maintained, “In the recent past I made certain statements and allegations against you regarding your alleged involvement in drug trade. These statements became a political issue. Now, I have learnt that (those) allegations are unfounded. Hence there should be no politics on such issues.” During the assembly polls held last year, Kejriwal while addressing a public gathering accused Majithia of leading a drug cartel.The apology letter was reportedly issued on account of a strategy devised by the AAP legal team to get rid of the defamation cases filed against the party and its leaders. The party is also considering reaching out to Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari, who had taken AAP leaders to court for libel. Though Mann did not cite the reason behind his resignation, his tweet was loaded with resentment. “I’m resigning as a president of AAP Punjab… but my fight against drug mafia and all kind of corruption in Punjab will continue as an ‘Aam Aadmi’ of Punjab,” he tweeted.Mann is not the only AAP leader in Punjab who is left displeased with Kejriwal’s apology to their political rivals. Another leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira vented his misgivings in a tweet by saying that the apology was a meek surrender. He tweeted: The adverse reactions from AAP leaders in Punjab over Kejriwal’s U-turn from the allegations that the Delhi chief minister had made against his political rivals, is understandable. In fact, these were the allegations on which AAP relied on to get closer to voters in Punjab in the last election campaign. Kejriwal’s apology has deprived the party of a major issue to bank on.’In the same light, Kejriwal’s apology also comes as an embarrassment for the party leaders who, toeing his line, earlier endorsed the same allegations and reaped political mileage out of them. Kejriwal’s apology is likely to leave them faceless in their respective constituencies. The recent turn of events has not only proved the allegations against Kejriwal true, that he has been relying his politics on a strategy as frivolous as ‘shoot and scoot, but also proved that his strategy is counter-productive.The recent row makes these allegations seem true. The ripples of Kejriwal’s apology are likely to have a pan-India impact. For it poses a credibility crisis for Kejriwal, whose words from now onwards will be taken with a pinch of salt by the public. Kejriwal, who rose from an anti-corruption movement, had a certain reliability amongst the public. He is now likely to be seen as having misused it. Such distrust will only hamstring the party’s future moves.However, let us delve into what prompted Arvind Kejriwal into tendering the unconditional apology. As it has come to be, criminal defamation cases are effectively a judicially-permissible form of bullying. Whenever any uncomfortable statements are made against powerful vested interests, a criminal defamation is slapped against their challengers. Often these cases are filed in different parts of the country, to ensure another layer of harassment for the challengers; that of constant travel to the court where the case has been filed. And fighting these criminal defamation, irrespective of the final outcome, is in itself a gruelling process for individual or small organisations, who are far less equipped in terms of finances or connections.As of today, Kejriwal is fighting more than 20 defamation cases in all parts of the country, from Delhi to Bangalore to Mumbai to Guwahati. So in tendering an apology to Bikram Majithia, and with indications that he would be doing the same in all defamation cases, is Arvind Kejriwal saying that he is no longer a political challenger and is part of status quo? Or is he making a decision not to get trapped into the politics of bullyingby-defamation that will drain his time, money and attention?While every political observer would have to decide this for themselves, Arvind Kejriwal seems to have made up his mind: that he will live to fight another day and to use his political energy to battle vested interests rather than caught into their trap of a draining politics of bullying-bydefamation. The people most upset by this move would be those who thought they could ringfence him by occupying him in courtroom battles instead of political ones!
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