June 4, 2021 5:56:30 am
Rebel Aam Aadmi Party legislators Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Pirmal Singh Dhaula and Jagdev Singh Kamalu Thursday joined the Congress in presence of CM Amarinder Singh just before he left for Delhi to meet the three-member panel constituted to tackle infighting in the party’s state unit.
The joining was a hurried affair at the helipad near CM’s official residence after which Amarinder left for Delhi in the state government chopper. Patiala MP and CM’s wife Preneet Kaur was present during the induction. CM is scheduled to meet the panel led by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, on Friday.
With three rebel AAP leaders joining the Congress, Amarinder, sources said, has conveyed a message to his colleagues that leaders from other parties are still willing to work under his leadership.
“This conveys a message that leaders from other parties are willing to join even as CM’s own partymen are creating an issue that saying the government is losing the game of perception,” a party leader said.
Khaira has returned to the Congress nearly six years after quitting it.
Considered a firebrand leader, he is an MLA from Bholath. He had quit Congress in 2015 to join AAP, which was getting a huge traction from the people of Punjab at that time.
Khaira was named the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha by AAP till he was removed after rebelling against Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal over his apology to former Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia. He then floated his own party, Punjab Ekta Party, and contested Lok Sabha election against SAD sitting MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal from Bathinda in 2019, but lost his security deposit.
Kamalu is an MLA from Maur who had defeated Congress candidate Harminder Jassi soon after he had escaped a bomb blast just before elections.
Pirmal Singh is an MLA from Bhadaur. Both Kamalu and Bhaduar are first-time legislators.
The trio resigned from Vidhan Sabha on Thursday. Under the anti-defection law, a party legislator has to resign from the legislative body if he joins another political party and a bypoll has to be conducted within six months of acceptance of his resignation.
The Congress was already abuzz with reports of these leaders joining the party. But Khaira had been denying them. A Facebook post by Congress said that Amarinder had taken the three leaders in the party fold before leaving for Delhi. It quoted the CM saying that the induction of the three leaders has been approved by Sonia Gandhi. He said since the general secretary incharge Harish Rawat and PPCC president Sunil Jakhar were busy in the consultation process with the three-member committee in Delhi, their blessings would be sought in a few days time.
Priyanka played a role
In Khaira joining the Congress, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi a retired judge, Justice Ranjit Singh, are learnt to have played a role.
Priyanka and Randeep Surjewala had heard Khaira at the bhog ceremony of Navreet Singh Dibdiba, who had died during the farmers’ protest. Khaira was addressing the gathering in Rudrapur. She, according to sources, had then expressed interest in him returning to the Congress fold.
A retired judge, Justice Ranjt Singh, who is related to Khaira and considered close to Amarinder, also played a role. When the process start rolling, party’s Punjab incharge Harish Rawat met Khaira in Chandigarh and Jakhar was asked to seek approval from the party chief to get Khaira into the party fold.
The trio had to join the Congress on May 28 earlier in the presence of Rawat, but the approval had not arrived. Finally, when the approval came, the CM took them in the organisation.
Eyebrows are being raised at PPCC Sunil Jakhar conspicuous absence at the joining of the three MLAs. While Jakhar had moved their case for approval, he was unaware that the trio would be joining the party on Thursday, sources said, adding that no messages were sent out to anyone. Jakhar was not available for comments.
Khaira defends return to Cong
Soon after joining the Congress, Khaira drew flak on the social media for having joined the party. In a statement later in the day, Khaira said he and his colleagues after due diligence had decided to join the Congress in the larger interest of the country and Punjab.
He said he was of the firm opinion, that only leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Amarinder Singh could lead the nation and state towards stability, peace and progress.
“Last but not the least, the decision to rejoin the Congress party was also based on a very vociferous demand for the same by supporters from Bholath constituency,” Khaira said in a statement, adding that he and his owe their 50 years of political existence to the people of Bholath.
Khaira said he was saddened to note the arrogant attitude of BJP towards lakhs of farmers especially of Punjab struggling and agitating at the borders of Delhi, for their legitimate demands.
After he was flooded with messages criticising him on social media, Khaira also took to clearing the doubts there and wrote: “I tried my best to make a Punjab-centric regional force, held 7-8 meetings at my residence but nothing came of it. I am not blaming anyone, but it did not work.”
Khaira also took a dig at his arch rival within Congress, Rana Gurjit Singh, and without naming him alleged that he was framed in several cases.
He said he chose Congress as he was looking at a platform to work for Punjab. “These are my reasons that I joined Congress. I cannot join BJP, an outfit creating divide in the country and Akalis, who are discredited. We have been fighting SAD for decades,” he wrote on social media.
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