A day after he was removed as the Leader of Opposition by the AAP leadership, Sukhpal Khaira Friday paraded eight party MLAs before the media as a show of strength and demanded that the decision of his removal be reviewed.
Stopping short of an open revolt against the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia but appearing defiant, Khaira said his removal was a moment of crisis for the party and claimed he had been receiving calls from party volunteers who were prepared to leave the party because of his removal. “People have called up and told me that earlier I was the Leader of Opposition, but now I am the Leader of People,” he said.
The MLAs present with Khaira were Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu, Mansa MLA Najar Singh, Maur MLA Jagdev Singh Kamalu, Jaito MLA Baldev Singh, MLA Bhadaur Pirmal Singh Khalsa, MLA Raikot Jagtar Singh Hissowal, MLA Garhshankar Jai Singh Rodi and MLA Bathinda (Rural) Rupinder Kaur Ruby. A meeting of the MLAs took place at Khaira’s residence in the morning where some MLAs reportedly tried to persuade him not to take any step against party leadership in haste.
Khaira and Sandhu said they were under a lot of pressure from volunteers to discuss the party situation and therefore a state-level convention of volunteers was being called in Bathinda on August 2. “We will discuss issues of the state. All state office-bearers, MLAs, zonal presidents, district presidents and block presidents will be called,” said Sandhu.
Khaira said the convention was not a revolt but an attempt to reform the party from within. “A chain of events were formed to remove me as LoP. I am not in the slightest perturbed for being removed, but they cannot decide this with a tweet. Final verdict lies with the people of Punjab. My morale is high. The people of Punjab are still waiting for a third political option. Our graph may be down, but we are still with Punjab and we will fight for Punjab. And we will make an alliance with like-minded parties,” he said.
Taking potshots at his detractors within the party, he said undeserving people were being brought forward. In a message to the MLAs who have supported his removal, he asked what his fault was. “Many MLAs faced mining and goonda tax allegations and I went to the party high command and defended them,” he said.
Sandhu said he and other MLAs were not addressing the press conference out of happiness. “The announcement of Sukhal Khaira’s removal yesterday was all of a sudden. No notice was given and no reply sought. We felt we needed to convey our sentiments to the party high command and tell them how people feel about it. We today wrote a letter to Kejriwal and Sisodia with signatures of 9 MLAs, telling them about what had happened and asking for a resolution of this crisis,” he said.
The Kharar MLA said many office-bearers of the party had also resigned. “We have requested them to hold on. We want to make it clear we are part of AAP and we are proud of it. And we will remain in the party. We have apprised the leadership in our letter about the disappointment of the people with the sacking and sought a review of the undemocratic removal. We will not do anything which weakens the party. We have to make it strong,” he said. Nazar Singh Mansahia, Jagdev Singh Kamalu and Bandelv Singh were the other MLAs who also spoke in favour of Khaira and called the decision to remove him as undemocratic. They said they were asked over a phone call to sign a letter on the change of the LoP and that this was not the manner in which the change should have been effected.
Only party structure can call volunteers’ convention: Dr Balbir
Reacting to the developments of the day, state co-president Dr Balbir Singh said he would soon call a meeting of the party office-bearers to discuss the recent developments. Referring to the party workers’ convention called by Khaira on August 2 at Bathinda, Dr Balbir said such a meeting could only be called by the party’s organisational structure. He also said that the gathering of MLAs by Khaira was a show of strength and said that ideally the MLAs should have waited for a reply from the party’s central leadership before making it public. “Writing a letter is the correct approach but some time should have been given for the reply too,” he said.