Nine months after he announced his resignation and then put it on the backburner, Dhuri MLA Arvind Khanna formally resigned from the Congress as well as his Vidhan Sabha membership on Sunday.
I have decided to go ahead with my resignation from the Punjab Vidhan Sabha and active politics to devote my time to my family and business.
I had decided to resign earlier in April last, but had not gone ahead that time for some last-minute, personal reasons. I have already conveyed this decision to the party and the leaders,” said Khanna, for long seen as a blue-eyed boy of Congress MP Capt Amarinder Singh and also a close friend of deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal. At the time of the “original” resignation, the businessman-politician had said he had wanted to quit even earlier but stayed put as Amarinder was contesting from Amritsar, a seat the former CM won.
Khanna’s move, though a setback on the surface, could serve as a covert fillip to Amarinder in an intra-party war against Punjab state chief Partap Singh Bajwa, since Khanna repeatedly talked of disillusionment with the Congress ever since Bajwa’s takeover from Amarinder after the 2012 assembly polls. Signals of the final break had come when he was absent at a luncheon show of strength by Amarinder on January 5.
For the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the bypoll that eventually result from Khanna’s resignation could be a blessing as well, as a victory could give it a simple majority on its own, ending its dependence on an increasingly aggressive ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ties between the SAD and BJP are under strain ever since defeat of Arun Jaitley in Amritsar, as the saffron party has been trying to blame the Akalis for it and also the larger issue of drug menace.
A bypoll has to be held within six months of the day of acceptance of resignation. At Present the SAD has 58 legislators, one short of the majority mark of 59 in an assembly of 117. Congress has 45 members including an independent who later supported it, while the BJP has 12; there are two other independents. The Congress has lost three of four recent bypolls, and the Dhuri contest could be daunting for Bajwa.
Though Khanna claims he has quit politics altogether, it must be noted that before joining the Congress in 1998 he was general secretary of the SAD’s youth wing.
Technically, the resignation is the same that he had sent in May last year, though at that time he had not appeared before the assembly speaker to formalise it. “In continuation of his resignation, Khanna has written two letters requesting me to accept his resignation. Khanna has also personally telephoned me five to six times to accept the resignation. A final decision will be taken very shortly,” speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal confirmed on Sunday. The second letter reached the Vidhan Sabha on Friday and, after making a phone call to Atwal, Khanna left for a foreign trip.
“With one stroke, Arvind has pleased both Amarinder and Sukhbir, as the latter needs a victory to checking the sliding graph of the Akali Dal, whereas Amarinder could now gun for Bajwa in case of any adverse result,” remarked a Congress leader, requesting anonymity. He underlined that Khanna had chosen to go ahead with the resignation at a time “suiting more to the Akalis than any other party”.