The central leadership of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Thursday summarily removed its MLA Sukhpal Khaira from the post of Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly, and appointed Dirba MLA, Harpal Singh Cheema, in his place. Reacting to the move, Khaira said that he had paid the price for speaking the truth.
While there had been simmering discontent between Khaira and the Delhi leadership, including party’s National Convener Arvind Kejriwal and state in-charge Manish Sisodia, over Kejriwal’s apology to Bikram Majithia and Khaira’s remarks on “Referendum 2020”, but matters came to a head with open discord between the Punjab co-president, Dr Balbir Singh, and Khaira.
Khaira’s removal comes exactly a year after he had been unanimously selected to be Leader of Opposition by fellow MLAs at a meeting in New Delhi on July 21, 2017. At that time, he had replaced H S Phoolka who quit the post in order to devote time to fight the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases against Congress leaders. On Thursday, the AAP MLAs were once again called by Manish Sisodia for their opinion on the selection of a new name and the majority of those present agreed with the name of Harpal Cheema.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that Sukhpal Khaira had openly accused Dr Balbir of trying to create circumstances to remove him as Leader of Opposition. He had been responding to statements made by party workers that Dr Balbir had accused Khaira of taking cash from party workers.
The announcement of Khaira’s removal was made on Thursday evening by Manish Sisodia on Twitter. Sisodia said that AAP had decided to change its Leader of Opposition in Punjab. “Harpal Singh Cheema, MLA Dirba, constituency shall be leader of opposition in Punjab Assembly. I am sure he will emerge as a strong Dalit leader and become a voice of all Dalit and marginalised communities of Punjab in Assembly and outside as well,” he wrote.
Later, a brief statement was also issued by the party in Chandigarh stating that a Dalit face from the state had been given responsibility of being Leader of Opposition.
Issuing a statement, Khaira said, “I have discharged my duty as leader of opposition with uttermost sincerity… If speaking the truth and espousing the cause of Punjab, Punjabis and Sikhs cost me the office of Leader of Opposition then I am prepared to let go 100 such positions.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Cheema said that he had been selected by the MLAs as the party needed to put forth a Dalit face in the state.