A day before Capt Amarinder Singh takes oath as Punjab chief minister on March 16, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal will meet his party’s newly elected 20 legislators and senior leaders in Delhi on Wednesday to select the leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly.
HS Phoolka, 60, Kanwar Sandhu, 61, and Sukhpal Singh Khaira, 52, are frontrunners for the coveted post that ensures perks equivalent to a cabinet-rank minister. Hectic lobbying has been on in the AAP, which has 20 seats and emerged as the principal opposition party in the 15th Vidhan Sabha with its alliance partner Lok Insaf Party that has two seats, ahead of the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance that has 18 MLAs.
Phoolka, a Supreme Court advocate, is Kejriwal’s go-to man for all legal tangles. A critical voice within the party, Phoolka is known for his fight for justice for victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. With his Panthic countenance, he is articulate and known to do his home work. On the downside, the Dakha MLA is seen as a Delhi man. His pre-occupation with his legal practice may come in the way of focusing full-time on the legislative responsibilities that the leader of opposition is entrusted with.
In the party too, Phoolka is essentially a one-man show. While he managed to steer clear of intrigues in Kejriwal’s core team in Punjab, how many of the winning MLAs support him is anyone’s guess. He lacks legislative experience.
Kanwar Sandhu, a senior journalist, who is an old hand on Punjab, was in charge of the AAP’s manifesto-drafting team. He engaged with supporters and people online on wide-ranging issues. Before he joined politics, Sandhu has been known for his love-hate relationship with Congress CM-designate Amarinder Singh and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. A first-time MLA, he too will be new to legislative affairs.
Younger to both Phoolka and Sandhu is Khaira, two-time MLA from Bholath, who had his first stint in the assembly as a Congressman. Considered a firebrand and politically sharp, he knows what it takes to be heard in the assembly. He revels in attacking both Congess and Akalis.
Soon after the poll results on March 11, Khaira fired his first salvo against CM-designate Amarinder, saying that the Congress high command shouldn’t name him for the top job as the state Congress chief has “corruption taint”.More than anything, the carefully-worded statement was meant to impress the AAP leadership about his “anti-Amarinder” credentials with an eye on the post of leader of opposition.
- Leader of the opposition is a coveted post with cabinet rank.
- Has to be consulted by ruling party for all constitutional appointments in state commissions.
- Sets the tone of opposition strategy in assembly sessions.
- Has the potential to be the party’s face in next polls.
Son of veteran Akali leader and former Punjab education minister Sukhjinder Singh, Khaira remained a Congressman for years. Some of his colleagues in the AAP feel that he may not be the right choice to lead the party legislators because many of his one-time Congress colleagues and friends will now be on the treasury benches.
Those invited to attend Wednesday’s meeting include state unit convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi, Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and AAP’s Majitha candidate Himmat Singh Shergill — all three lost the elections — and state affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh.