As was expected for long, Dhuri MLA Arvind Khanna has resigned from the Congress as well as from the Punjab assembly; but with a twist in the tale. Rather than joining the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Khanna, 45, bucked the speculation and announced to quit politics altogether.
A relative and close aide of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, Khanna admitted that it was "on my mind" to join the SAD, but he had decided against doing that after Amarinder was announced the Lok Sabha candidate from Amritsar, as he "did not want to hurt his prospects" before the April 30 voting. Now, however, he had dropped all those plans for good, and was bidding adieu to politics "to give more time to family and business".
Speaking over the phone with HT, he stressed that he would continue social work through his NGO, Umeed Foundation. He did not reveal where he was speaking from.
Not giving many reasons for his decision, Khanna said he was particularly disheartened by the party's 2012 assembly poll defeat that was "taking a toll on my mind and health". A key decision-maker in 2012 election of the then Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Amarinder, Khanna remained missing from Lok Sabha canvassing.
Neither did he campaign for his mentor Amarinder, nor for Vijay Inder Singla, the candidate from Sangrur seat that includes Dhuri assembly segment. After he missed the April 26 rally of Congress national president Sonia Gandhi at Barnala as well, the talk of him joining the SAD before the April 30 polling grew further.
"I did consider the idea of joining the Akali Dal, not for any personal gain but for the fact that I could, through them, get a lot of work done in my constituency and also contribute to the development of Punjab," Khanna said on Wednesday, after sending his resignation to the assembly speaker and the party office.
"But all that was put on hold after Captain saab was announced as the Congress candidate from Amritsar. I could not get myself to make any move when Captain saab was busy in elections; and I was not sure how this would reflect on him and his election effort," Khanna added.
He sought to end speculations of him joining the SAD, for now: "I have to say that the time has come for me to step away from politics." But when pressed about the issue, he added, "As of now, I have made up my mind. One can't predict what will happen after five or seven years, or a decade."
Khanna's resignation brings to fore the discontentment within the Congress. On his differences with Partap Singh Bajwa, who was appointed PPCC chief after Amarinder was replaced following to the 2012 defeat, Khanna admitted that he had some issues with Bajwa, "But, at this juncture, I won't like to comment on that. In politics, you always witness ups and downs. It's part of the political game." He claimed that he had already explained his position to Congress national vice-president Rahul Gandhi by meeting him personally.
When contacted, Bajwa said he would comment after speaking to Khanna: "I have come to know about his resignation from the media. On the social media, the internet, there's talk that he has resigned because of personal reasons."
The resignation brings down the number of Congress MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha to 43; the party had won 46 of Punjab's 117 seats in the 2012 elections. While Moga has already seen Joginder Pal Jain switch sides and win from the SAD fold, Talwandi Sabo's Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu resigned recently and campaigned for the SAD.
Assembly speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, who is out of Punjab, confirmed Khanna's resignation: "I have directed the staff to verify it and process the papers. I will formally take a decision after May 18, when I assume office."