As referendum remark kicks up storm, Khaira tries to backpedal
A day after his controversial remarks over support to Referendum 2020 — a pro-Khalistan movement initiated by US-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) — kicked up a political storm, senior AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira on Saturday tried to wriggle out by saying that he never backed the demand for a separate Sikh state.
As the leader of opposition in Punjab assembly came under heavy fire from political outfits, including his own party, the AAP, Khaira said: “ I don’t support the idea of Khalistan but I don’t hesitate to say that this demand is result of consistent policy of bias, discrimination and persecution that have pushed Sikhs to this point that they want a separate state for themselves.”
The Congress and the SAD-BJP, however, lashed out at Khaira for his “open and blatant support” to the referendum campaign. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said the AAP leader was “backing secessionism” by supporting the campaign. Amarinder said Khaira seemed to be indulging in political antics without any sense of the history of Punjab or any realisation of the possible consequences of his statement.
AAP’s Punjab co-president, Dr Balbir Singh, who is looking after the organisational affairs after the resignation of state president and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Maan, announced that national leadership of the party will initiate action against Khaira. “AAP’s national and Punjab leadership stands for unity and territorial integrity of India. We don’t support any referendum. I have consulted the high command on the issue and they have told me that action will be taken against Khaira for his statement,” Balbir told HT.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia termed Khaira’s statement a “proof of divisive politics played by AAP.” “A criminal case should be registered against Khaira for indulging in anti- national activities. Khaira is doing a great injustice to the Sikh community by talking about referendum 2020 and justice for 1984 victims in the same breath,” he added.
On Friday, Khaira had said: “I support the Sikh referendum 2020 movement as Sikhs have the right to demand justice against atrocities suffered by them.”
Amid the barrage of criticism, Khaira on Saturday also responded to Captain in a tweet: “I am surprised a leader of your level is tweeting against me without checking his facts.”
But BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia said Khaira “double speaks” by supporting simultaneously the referendum as well as owing allegiance to the Constitution and supporting a united India.”Declaring support for referendum 2020 by Khaira establishes his links with secessionists supporting Khalistan,” the former minister said.
Punjab Police, who has nabbed more than 20 persons in last one year for conspiring to popularise this referendum, claimed that this referendum is backed by Pakistan’s Inter-State Intelligence (ISI) agency with US-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannu as its “mastermind”. In July last year, police had booked Pannu on charges of sedition over the pro-Khalistan campaign.