Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who deserted the Congress for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not only left his former colleagues red-faced, but also struggling to find a replacement.
Senior Congress leaders have no one to lean on in Bholath, the segment from where Khaira, a former MLA, contested the last four assembly elections on a Congress ticket, never allowing any other colleague to emerge as a strong leader.
Moreover, though the Kapurthala district Congress chief Navtej Singh Cheema claimed that the party rank and file in Bholath were united, sources said a big chunk of local Congress leaders, including one of the two block presidents, Kuldeep Singh Kang from Nadala, was even ready to follow Khaira to AAP.
Not at par
Among those the Congress can now think of taking Khaira’s place in Bholath is Avtar Singh Walia, a little-known leader in Doaba. Walia was quite active in the recent months after sensing Khaira’s increasing inclination towards the AAP. It will be under Walia’s leadership that a few local leaders will meet Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh in Chandigarh on Saturday.
“There should be no hesitation to admit that a few Congress leaders were ready to join Khaira in AAP. It was bound to happen as he (Khaira) was trying his make an entry into AAP from the beginning of this year. But most of them are relatives or close friends of Khaira family,” Walia said.
But, despite Walia’s claims that he will be a replacement to Khaira, his being an urban Sikh doesn’t suit the caste equations in Bholath, which is dominated by the Lubana community to which SAD MLA Bibi Jagir Kaur belongs.
Another face in the party is former MLA Jagtar Singh Multani, who used to contest on a Congress ticket from Bholath before Khaira. But Multani, 65, who belongs to Kukan village, has not been quite active in politics for a long time now.
Bholath is a stronghold of Jagir Kaur, who enjoys a strong clout, and against whom even Khaira lost three of the four last assembly elections.
With Khaira out just when all the parties have already blown the bugle for the 2017 polls, finding a new face will be difficult for the Congress.
On the other hand, as far as the AAP is concerned, Bholath has big chunk of AAP sympathisers: During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Yamini Gomar from Hoshiarpur (Bholath falls under Hoshiarpur LS constituency) received more than 15,000 votes, significant for a new entrant.
‘Will give you leader who can win’
However, the Congress is still putting up a brave face. On Friday evening, Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder issued a statement for the party cadre in Bholath. Amarinder assured his workers that he will replace Khaira with a “better leader”.
“We will provide a better leader for you who will take everybody along and work hard for the development of the constituency. We will give such a leader who has the capacity to win the seat,” said the statement by Amarinder.
Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit Singh told HT: “Congress is a big party and is not run by individuals. Here, everyone has a replacement, whether it’s me or anybody else.”