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AAP sacks Khaira as leader of opposition in Punjab assembly

The party named first-time MLA from Dirba Harpal Singh Cheema, a Dalit face, as the new leader of the AAP legislature party. Khaira was appointed LoP in July last year.

punjab Updated: Jul 27, 2018 09:25 IST
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
AAP,Khaira,Punjab assembly
Bholath MLA Sukhpal Khaira.(HT File)

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Thursday removed its firebrand Bholath MLA Sukhpal Khaira from the post of leader of opposition (LoP) in Punjab assembly.

The party named first-time MLA from Dirba Harpal Singh Cheema, a Dalit face, as the new leader of the AAP legislature party. Khaira was appointed LoP in July last year.

The change was announced by Delhi deputy chief minister and in-charge of Punjab affairs Manish Sisodia on Twitter. “AAP has decided to change its leader of opposition in Punjab. Harpal Singh Cheema, MLA, Dirba constituency, shall be leader of opposition in Punjab assembly,” he tweeted.

Sisodia followed it up with another tweet on the new LoP’s Dalit credentials, expressing confidence that Cheema will emerge as a strong Dalit leader and become a voice of all marginalised communities of Punjab. He is the third leader of the AAP legislature party in Punjab in the last 16 months.

AAP’s national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has written a letter to the speaker of Punjab assembly, requesting him to appoint Cheema as the leader of opposition. Khaira, reacting to the announcement, said he discharged his duty with utmost sincerity, dedication and fearlessness. “If speaking the truth and espousing the cause of Punjab, Punjabis and Sikhs cost me LoP, I’m prepared to let go 100 such positions. Those at the helm have done what Cong-SAD-BJP wanted (sic),” he said in a tweet.

The AAP did not give any reason for his removal or details of the process followed. Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan said the decision was taken in a meeting of party legislators in the national capital. “Those who were not present conveyed their consent over phone,” he told HT, expressing inability to give the number of MLAs present. AAP legislature party deputy leader Sarvjit Kaur Manuke said she got a call from a central leader and agreed to go with the party’s decision.

AAP state unit co-president Balbir Singh, whom Khaira recently accused of hatching a plot for his removal from the post, said the decision was taken by the party MLAs from the state. “Since I am not a legislator, I was not present and had no inkling,” he said, welcoming the decision. Most other party leaders remained mum or kept their phones switched off. Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) chief Simarjeet Bains, a one-time alliance partner, said Khaira’s sacking was a mistake. “Khaira had brought new energy to the party, but did not deserve to be treated in this shabby manner,” he said.

Though Khaira’s ties with the party leadership were uneasy ever since he publicly slammed Kejriwal for his apology to SAD’s Bikram Singh Majithia to settle a drug allegation-related defamation case, his removal came just days after he accused Balbir Singh of levelling false allegations of accepting cash from party workers. A combative politician, Khaira, who had joined the AAP from the Congress in 2015, remained LoP for one year and his stint was marked by controversies. His purported statement on ‘Referendum 2020’, a movement initiated by US-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) for a separate Sikh state, had also earned the ire of the top leaders last month. While Kejriwal refused to meet Khaira, Sisodia rebuked him.

Meanwhile, Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu resigned as spokesperson of the AAP legislature party. He was appointed by Khaira three weeks ago. “I have resigned so that the new LoP can appoint his own team,” he said.

First Published: Jul 27, 2018 00:21 IST