As quickly as he rose in politics, Arvind Khanna’s descent into oblivion has happened at matching pace. Before the 2012 assembly elections, Khanna — who resigned from the Congress and the assembly, and announced his decision to quit politics on Wednesday — was the man with whom everyone in the Congress circles wanted to have a relationship.
After the rather unexpected rout of the party, however, he became arguably the most hated person in Punjab Congress.
Khanna, a relative a nd blue-eyed boy of the then state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, was one of the main architects of the party’s 2012 gameplan, which tur ned into a fiasco and led to the SAD-BJP winning a historic consecutive victory.
While Amarinder took most of the brunt and was even removed from his PPCC post, the defeat raised questions over the integrity of Khanna, who is a close friend of SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and used to meet him during the elections.
Many dubbed Khanna “an Akali Dal mole in the Congress; he was a Youth Akali Dal leader from Sangrur before he joined the Congress in 1998, after Amarinder returned to the Congress as the state chief.
He was elected as an MLA for the first time on Congress ticket from Sangrur assembly segment in 2002. But till 2008, he was not a formidable face in the party. However, in 2009, Amarinder mooted his name for the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat.
The ticket did not materialise, but the move propelled his career and he bloomed into a powerful leader from the ‘Captain camp’. So much so that Amarinder was seen as having deserted loyalists from Majha and Malwa, even BIS Chahal, as the control went to Khanna.
It was Khanna’s and his coterie that surrounded Amarinder all the time during the 2012 elections; Amarinder left his residence Moti Bagh Palace and shifted to a Sector-10 house in Chandigarh that was with Khanna. Amarinder’s team reported to him through Khanna.
After the defeat, former Congress MLAs like Mangat Rai Bansal openly accused Khanna of “selling the interests of the Congress to SAD president Sukhbir Badal”.
There were rumours that, through Khanna, Sukhbir came to know about Akalis who met Amarinder before the assembly polls, and hence he later deserted them. Khanna never denied meeting Sukhbir during the elections and openly admitted that they were good friends.
The tide turned decisively after the change of guard at the PPCC, when Partap Singh Bajwa replaced Amarinder. Bajwa gave no importance to Khanna, who even complained to Congress national vice-president Rahul Gandhi. But Rahul paid no heed.
This political sidelining, coupled with certain CBI cases against him for foreign exchange irregularities, led to his decision.
Khanna is a big businessman, with interests in share market, technology, real estate, consumer lifestyle and hospitality. He also runs a social organisation called Umeed Foundation that works on self-employment models for the poor. His family relations — Khanna’s mother is Amarinder’s paternal aunt — gave him further fillip initially.
On Wednesday, a senior Congress leader commented: “Businessmen-turned politicians are the biggest danger to democracy. Congress has had to bear the brunt too… Khanna’s resignation is good riddance.”