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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Lot at stake for Sukhpal Singh Khaira in parliamentary poll debut

Sukhpal Singh Khaira, a two-time MLA from Bholath, formed the Punjab Democratic Alliance after quitting the AAP in January this year. He is contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bathinda seat.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 29, 2019 15:02 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
lok sabha elections2019,sukhpal singh khaira,bathinda lok sabha seat
Sukhpal Singh Khaira (in yellow turban) is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from the Bathinda seat. (Sanjeev Kumar / HT Photo )

Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) chief Sukhpal Singh Khaira, 54, isn’t known as the one-man demolition squad for nothing.

Khaira, who rarely says no to a political scrap, has been going after his political rivals with the belligerence of a prizefighter. This time, he has taken on Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, daughter-in-law of former CM Parkash Singh Badal and wife of SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, in an electoral fight on their political turf, the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency. She has won the seat twice.

Though Khaira is a two-time MLA from Bholath, this is his first Lok Sabha election and a lot seems to be riding on it for him. It will decide the political future of the fledgling PEP and, in turn, of the six-party alliance, Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA), that he cobbled together after quitting the Aam Aadmi Party in January.

Perennial rebel with big ambitions

Khaira, who had hopped on to the AAP bandwagon led by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal from the Congress in December 2015, has a rebellious streak in him. When the AAP won 20 assembly seats to emerge as the principal opposition party in Punjab two years ago, he was the only one with some prior legislative experience. The firebrand MLA was named the leader of opposition in July 2017 and was expected to give an edge to the rookie party in state assembly.

Also Read | Lok Sabha Elections 2019: AAP faces its rebels on 4 seats in Punjab

He started well by going after his bête noire and power minister Rana Gurjit Singh for his alleged “benami” transactions in auction of sand mines, and others, but soon turned against Kejriwal. Khaira and a few other MLAs openly slammed Kejriwal for tendering an apology to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia to settle a drug charge-related defamation case.

The attack by Khaira and a few other MLAs led to bad blood between and him and Kejriwal loyalists in the state party. When he faced flak over his purported statement on “Referendum 2020” – a movement initiated by US-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice for a separate Sikh state, few were willing to speak in his support. Others like Aman Arora distanced themselves from his statement. On being removed by Kejriwal from the post of leader of opposition, he and seven other MLAs revolted, setting up a “parallel organisational set-up”. Though Khaira retained support of six of them who sided with him, only one of them joined his new party. Their support is petering out when he needs it the most as one MLA has joined the Congress and another is conspicuous by his absence from his poll campaign.

The AAP rift was not the first time he had fallen foul of his party bosses. During his Congress days also, he ran into trouble with (present CM) Amarinder Singh and was sidelined. Though Khaira’s adversarial politics made him media’s delight, his overbearing style and penchant for publicity were apparently responsible reasons for his troubles in both parties. In PEP, he has been consulting his colleagues more in decision-making, though. Khaira was first elected as MLA in 2007 from the Congress. His father Sukhjinder Singh was an Akali leader.

Also Read | Lok Sabha election: Farmers, drugs figure in Punjab Democratic Alliance’s common minimum programme

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 15:01 IST

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