Barely a year after it was launched with great fanfare by the then rebel Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, Sukhpal Khaira, the Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) is in doldrums with its leadership having gone back on their original decisions of having quit the party and the membership of the state Assembly.
Launched on January 8, 2019, the PEP is staring at political oblivion with Khaira having taken back his resignation as AAP MLA from the Legislative Assembly and another senior leader of the party, Jaitu MLA, Baldev Singh, also having gone back into AAP fold in order to save his Assembly seat and to avoid disqualification. Both, Khaira and Baldev Singh, had contested the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019 on PEP tickets. While Khaira lost his security deposit from Bathinda constituency, Baldev Singh did so from Faridkot constituency.
Sukhpal Khaira has now been incommunicado and has withdrawn himself from political limelight for nearly two months now. Contrary to his hitherto routine of posting daily videos on Facebook highlighting issues of importance to the state and reacting to political developments, he has gone completely silent and has not said a word in the last many weeks. This has left not only his party workers in a state of confusion but also his erstwhile rebel colleagues in AAP who supported PEP, who are wondering at what is in offing.
Some leaders within his party confided that Khaira was lying low and not making any statement on his party platform because he did not want to jeopardise his Assembly seat. “Since AAP has complained against him to the Speaker and demanded that a call be taken on his disqualification at the earliest, he seems to have decided to lie low. However, removing yourself from political scenario with no tangible cause can be suicidal for any politician,” said a senior leader who did not want to be identified.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sukhpal Khaira said that contrary to rumours he was still active politically and had not faded away. “I have just taken some time off to carry out an appraisal of the political scenario in the state and to charter a course for the future. I shall soon be getting active in public domain in the new year,” he said.
Senior AAP leaders say that they have been observing Khaira’s actions closely and by refusing to resign from his assembly seat, he had shown that he was only lusting for power and was not worried for the welfare of the state. “It is now clear that Khaira’s only grouse in AAP was that he had been removed as Leader of Opposition.
This was a man who said that he would give up all kinds of positions of power for the people of Punjab and here he is unable to quit his MLA seat even though he is no longer in the party which gave him ticket to fight from the seat,” said Harpal Singh Cheema, Leader of Opposition.
Another AAP leader said that it was an open secret that Khaira had entered into some pact with the Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD) in order to contest from Bathinda so that the margin of the Congress candidate could be reduced. “He managed to lure away a chunk of votes which would have otherwise gone to Congress and helped Harsimrat Badal retain the seat with a slender margin,” he said.
With PEP gliding on auto-pilot, AAP is now hoping that it will be able to woo back the party cadres and leaders who had sided with PEP in order to forge a broad base for the next Assembly elections. “We will definitely like our friends to join hands with us again. A lot of effort in this regard will be made after the Delhi Assembly elections. The national convenor of the party, Arvind Kejriwal, will be visiting Punjab and will address at least four big roadshows and rallies to rejuvenate the party and win back the rebels,” an AAP leader said.
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