Sunday morning, when people woke up to the news of protests by students at Chandigarh University over purportedly leaked objectionable videos, there were confusion and rumours all around — about the contents, those featuring in them and attempted suicides. The police immediately denied reports about suicides. Vivek Soni, Senior Superintendent of Police, Mohali, said that as per investigations “so far”, there was only one video of the accused herself.
What confounded the confusion were the different versions from top leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP):
At 10.18 am, AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that one girl of Chandigarh University had recorded “objectionable videos of many girl students” and made them viral. He promised “stringent punishment” for the perpetrators.
At 10.32 am, AAP MP and chairman of advisory panel to the Punjab government, Raghav Chadha, promised in a tweet that “Punjab government will leave no stone unturned to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”
At 11.59 am, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann spoke through Twitter, expressing anguish about the incident and saying, “Our daughters are our pride…have ordered high-level inquiry into the incident…will take strict action against whoever is guilty.”
What do these three tweets tell us? We should look at the timelines first. Punjab CM’s reaction came 101 minutes after his Delhi counterpart and 87 minutes after his government’s Delhi-based advisor. Maybe that’s because Mann was in Germany. If the state is witnessing such protests by students, one would expect the CM to advance his return to Punjab. Instead, as The Hindu reported, he returned from the Frankfurt airport. The Hindu quoted a passenger saying that a person “resembling” Bhagwant Mann entered the aircraft but left after some time. An AAP spokesperson said that the CM was feeling “a little unwell” and so would catch a flight later in the night.
The CM was on a weeklong tour of Germany to attend DRINKTEC 2022, a food and beverage trade fair, and other events to attract investments. Whatever be the reasons for his return from the airport—after or before boarding the flight—his and other AAP leaders’ responses to the Chandigarh University incident beg for many explanations.
Maybe Mann was busy handling the crisis from Frankfurt and so left it to his party boss and adviser to react to the incident and promise action against the culprits even before the CM himself did. One can’t quibble about that, of course. What’s, however, strange was that Arvind Kejriwal disclosed ‘objectionable videos of many girl students’ while the Punjab police maintained that there was just one video of the student herself.
Punjab CM also spoke of “daughters”, but it could also be in a general sense. So, was the Mann government suppressing facts? Or did the Delhi CM know more that the Punjab Police would disclose? Such differences in their versions could only provide grist to the rumour mill and leave students and parents more worried.
This brings us to AAP’s Punjab model of governance. In the run-up to the 2022 assembly elections, Kejriwal had promised the implementation of the so-called Delhi model in Punjab. CM Bhagwant Mann completed six months in office on 16 September. So, his honeymoon period is over. No pun intended here. The fact, however, is that his marriage to Gurpreet Kaur in July was one of the very few happy news coming from Punjab in the past six months.
Also read: Accused girl shared her personal video to boyfriend, no objectionable video of other students found, claims Chandigarh University
A problem a minute
The Mann-led government has been dealing with one controversy or the other — starting in the very first week in office over the party’s nomination of ‘outsiders’ to the Rajya Sabha from Punjab.
Then came the controversy over the ‘Delhi Durbar’ running the Punjab government, with Kejriwal calling bureaucrats and ministers to Delhi and then getting his confidante, Raghav Chadha, a formal role in the Mann government as chairman of an advisory panel — set up on the lines of Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council during the UPA years at the Centre.
There is not much Mann can do about Delhi leaders running the show in his state. He seems to have learnt to live with this fact. Mann can only console the Mohali SSP when Kejriwal decides to contradict him publicly over leaked videos.
It was with a lot of fanfare that Kejriwal and Mann had taken credit for sacking health minister Vijay Singla for alleged corruption, based on call recordings and video clips. Now another audio clip is circulating on social media in which another minister, Fauja Singh Sarari, is purportedly asking his close aide to ‘trap’ contractors to extract money.
It has been over a week, but Kejriwal and Mann are silent. All that the AAP leaders are ready to say is that the Sarari audio clip is being ‘examined’. Sacrificing a minister—Singla—bolstered AAP leadership’s claim to be anti-corruption crusaders but the same would be undermined if they sack another minister on similar charges.
Also read: In Punjab, there was space for a third player to emerge. Why only AAP and Kejriwal succeeded
Is this what Punjab voted for?
The AAP had woven a story of hope and dreams in its campaign in Punjab where voters were disillusioned with traditional parties. Seven months since they cast their votes for the AAP, they are still looking for the much-touted Delhi model of governance. Farmers voted for the party that gave steadfast support to them during the yearlong agitation on the Delhi border. The Mann government has given them 300 units of free power per month. But such freebies aren’t good enough to support farming in the long run. Ask the moong-growers who were promised so much by the AAP government. Most of them have been left disappointed.
If women above 18 years were hoping to get Rs 1,000 per month in their bank accounts, as promised by Kejriwal, they must wait longer. For a government that couldn’t pay salary to its employees in time this month, pre-election promises are returning to haunt it. Fulfilling its promises to these women means an additional cost of Rs 12,000 crore annually, a huge amount for a state with estimated outstanding debt of Rs 2.85 lakh crore in the current fiscal. After the Mann government’s first budget, per capita debt of every Punjabi is estimated to go up to Rs 1.01 lakh in 2022-23, an increase of Rs 7,700 from the previous year.
One-MLA-one-pension, anti-corruption helpline, mohalla clinics, Seventh Pay Commission recommendations in colleges and universities and 20,000 jobs are some feel-good achievements. But they are far outweighed by adverse reports — domination of ‘Delhi darbar’ or ‘outsiders’; murder of rapper Sidhu Moosewala after security withdrawal; a minister misbehaving with an eminent doctor and another minister allegedly wanting to ‘trap’ contractors; posts of top legal and police officers—advocate general and DGP—becoming musical chairs; Mann government spending tens of crores of rupees in advertisements aimed at Gujarat election; and, vandalisation of a church amid a debate over conversion to Christianity. The list goes on much longer.
Also read: Desperate Punjab had a dream. This is how AAP took it away
BJP is looking at Punjab model
AAP leaders may argue that one doesn’t have to be so pessimistic about the state of affairs in Punjab. They may say that Kejriwal or Mann can’t solve in six months or two years what has been the result of decades of misrule. But the AAP’s problem is that it doesn’t have much time. Its so-called Delhi model went uncontested in Punjab because its main adversaries, including the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, lacked imagination and acumen. Earlier, it could defeat the BJP in its city of birth, Delhi, because the latter didn’t have a popular face in the Union Territory. Even the Congress beat it in three consecutive assembly elections before the AAP came into existence. And, like the BJP, the AAP finds it easier to beat the Congress.
It’s a whole new game in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. It’s the first time Kejriwal is seeking to dislodge a BJP government. Before the AAP started practising the art of selling its governance model in Delhi, the BJP had perfected it in many states.
The BJP has developed a Gujarat model of beating anti-incumbency. Grappling with the BJP on the latter’s turf won’t be easy.
The AAP leadership must be realising it already. Central investigation agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and even the Delhi police’s anti-corruption branch have just got into action. They are there for the long haul. And just see how the Delhi BJP has become the nodal unit for Gujarat and Himachal BJP to source campaign materials, meant to puncture the so-called Delhi model of the AAP in poll-bound states.
Trust the BJP to also move on to the AAP’s Punjab model of governance soon. It’s early days yet for Mann and therefore, the BJP is just keeping a watch on it. As and when Kejriwal’s party becomes a principal challenger—even if it just dislodges the Congress from the opposition’s turf in Gujarat and Himachal in November-December—the BJP and even other parties will increasingly start scrutinising the Punjab model, which can potentially mar the Delhi model.
The author is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.