Dissident AAP legislator Nazar Singh Manshahia, who had been supporting Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) founder Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s Lok Sabha campaign in Bathinda, Thursday joined the Congress in the presence of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh here.
Manshahia, who also resigned from the Punjab Assembly, represented Mansa seat, which is part of the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency.
It was learnt that at least three other AAP legislators, one from the dissident camp and the other two from the Delhi camp, were also in touch with the Congress. At least one senior leader of Delhi camp is believed to have sought a cabinet berth if he joins Congress and regains his seat in the byelection.
Manshahia, who had taken a premature retirement from Punjab Pollution Control Board in 2015 after serving as senior environmental engineer in the department, said he wanted to serve the people of Punjab, which he felt the Congress was best equipped to do. “AAP has completely lost the narrative in Punjab, with no positively agenda or ideology to guide it,” he said.
A first-time MLA, Manshahia was Member of House Committee and Committee on Farmers Suicides and farm labourers of Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2017-18). He is currently Member of Committee on Government Assurances of Punjab Vidhan Sabha (2018-19).
Manshahia had been one of the most prominent of the eight rebel AAP MLAs who had sided with Khaira when he was removed as the Leader of Opposition. The number of rebels has now come down to four. Only Kanwar Sandhu (Kharar), Jagtar Singh ‘Jagga’ Hissowal (Raikot), Jagdev Singh Kamalu (Maur), and Pirmal Singh Khalsa (Bhadaur) are left in the rebel fold.
Garhshanker MLA Jai Kishen Rori had returned to the AAP fold while Khaira, who was Bholath MLA, had quit the party to launch his own political outfit Punjab Ekta party. Jaitu MLA Baldev Singh too had quit AAP and joined PEP, while Manshahia has now joined Congress.
Khaira said he was extremely “shocked and saddened” to hear about the sudden defection by Manshahia. Khaira said he always held Manshahia in high esteem because of his experience and maturity.
“I could never think of him defecting in the middle of an election and that too without any valid reason. The defection will only bring disrepute and shatter the confidence of people in the political class of Punjab,” Khaira said.
“Whatever steps he walked with us in our time of crisis, we are all grateful to him,” he said. Manshahia had been on Khaira’s side when he formed the PEP and was also present at his roadshows in Bathinda last month.
Khaira held Amarinder Singh responsible for introducing “Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram” culture in Punjab. “Amarinder Singh has turned out to be the Bhajan Lal of Punjab, who despite having a brute majority of 78 MLAs is still shaky. This shows his weak mental character, (a person) who has no confidence in himself,” he said.
The spokesperson for the rebel AAP MLAs, Kanwar Sandhu said that it was a sad development and it weakens the hopes of a third front. “Obviously AAP is paying for the numerous mistakes that it has made,” he said.
Leader of Opposition, Harpal Cheema said that the rebel MLAs have been exposed through Manshahia’s defection.
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“Those who were pointing fingers at AAP and were teaching us lessons in propriety have today abandoned their own ideals and joined hands with the Congress whom they opposed while fighting for elections,” he said.
AAPs assembly edge razor thin
With one legislator after another quitting the party, the position of AAP as the single largest opposition party is on a shaky ground now. From an initial 20 MLAs in the House, the party is now down to 16 following resignations and defections. If the four rebel MLAs also quit, then the party will have only to 12 MLAs, and would lose the Leader of Opposition’s post to SAD, which has 14 MLAs.