After Ruby, four more AAP MLAs in talks with Congress to switch parties

Sources within the AAP and the Congress said that there are at least four more MLAs who are willing to switch over to the Congress and had sent out feelers to the party to accommodate them.

After the exit of Bathinda (Urban) MLA, Rupinder Kaur Ruby, from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), at least four more MLAs of the party were said to be in touch with the Congress at various levels, sources claimed.

With the exit of Ruby from AAP, the effective number of MLAs in the party has come down to 13 — seven down from the 20 that had been originally elected during the 2017 polls. If suspended Kharar MLA, Kanwar Sandhu, who is also more or less out of the party, is included in the list, then the number further falls to 12. The only reason why AAP still holds the office of the Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha is because several MLAs, who are now with the Congress, have not resigned as MLAs.

With Rupinder Kaur Ruby’s exit, almost all AAP MLAs who had revolted against Arvind Kejriwal demanding more autonomy for the Punjab unit of the party, have joined Congress. The MLAs who have switched sides so far include Sukhpal Khaira, Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Pirmal Singh Khalsa, Nazar Singh Mashahia, and recently Rupinder Kaur Ruby. Barring Sukhpal Khaira, all the other MLAs elected on an AAP ticket in the 2017 polls are first-timers and most of them come from humble backgrounds.

Sources within the AAP and the Congress said that there are at least four more MLAs who are willing to switch over to the Congress and had sent out feelers to the party to accommodate them. “We have information that more MLAs want to leave the party. All these are those who have not performed well in their constituencies and there is a demand from the voters to replace them with new faces in 2022,” said a senior AAP leader.

While AAP is inducting leaders from other parties at a fast pace, the latest being Raman Behal, a Congress leader from Gurdaspur who joined AAP on Tuesday, the sustained exodus from its legislative ranks after the 2017 elections has caused embarrassment to the party. After the initial revolt by Sukhpal Singh Khaira, there has been a steady trickle of MLAs aligning with the Congress. Khaira’s resignation as MLA was recently accepted by the Speaker, Rana KP Singh, even as the petition seeking his disqualification as MLA for having fought the Lok Sabha elections on another party’s ticket is pending.

The latest MLA that the party lost from among its legislative ranks is Baldev Singh, former MLA from Faridkot, who was disqualified by the Speaker last month for having fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on another party’s ticket. HS Phoolka, former MLA from Dakha, had earlier resigned from the party and as MLA in 2019.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Harpal Singh Cheema, Leader of Opposition, said that Ruby was like his younger sister and he wished her the best. “She has left the AAP because she would not have got a ticket for the 2022 elections. I would ask Congress to immediately give her a ticket from Bathinda Rural constituency,” Cheema said sarcastically.

Cheema was alluding to the fact that Ruby has been hunting for an alternate seat for fighting the 2022 polls and had her eyes set on the neighbouring constituencies of Bhucho Mandi and Malout. Sources within the AAP said that it was unlikely that the sitting Congress leaders in these constituencies would surrender their seats for someone from another party who was being forced to change her own constituency.

When asked why the first generation politicians, who were elected as AAP MLAs, had quit and moved on to Congress, a senior AAP leader said that they were unable to deal with the fame and power which came their way. “They started thinking of themselves as scat’s whiskers and lost track of the fact that they had to do some hard work on the ground,” he said.

However, a rebel AAP leader, on condition of anonymity, countered this claim and said that the poor handling of party leaders by the Delhi leadership was the main cause of the exodus. “Even today, many top Delhi leaders are saying that it does not matter that Ruby has left because she was a losing proposition anyway. But that is not how it appears to the people on the ground, the voters. For them, an AAP MLA has quit the party and this does not augur well for the party so close to the elections. If your MLAs have not been able to perform in the past four and half years then the party leadership cannot escape the blame. This is just an excuse for being arrogant towards the MLAs,” he said.

Another party worker reacted to the development by saying that the benefits of having so many first-time MLAs from the working-class backgrounds were frittered by AAP, which was plagued by bitter infighting all through the term of the present assembly. “Just go and see where many of the MLAs lived before the 2017 elections and their standard of living now. You will know the answer,’ he said.

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