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Assembly session: Akalis gunning for Sukhpal Khaira, Congress unsure on targeting him

Politics over drugs: CM may not like party to take on Khaira as it will raise questions on his stand on Majithia, not just by AAP but his own MLAs

punjab Updated: Nov 26, 2017 09:54 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Assembly session,Punjab Assembly session,Akali
The man behind the campaign against Majithia, Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa (in pic), said if the Akalis demand resignation from Khaira, he will demand that Majithia too resign.(HT File)

In Punjab’s politics over drugs, the Akalis may have found their biggest redemption so far in the summons to leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira in a drug case by a Fazilka court. No wonder then, that the Shiromani Akali Dal will not be gunning for the government but Khaira’s scalp in the assembly session that begins on Monday.

But Khaira, now an Aam Aadmi Party MLA, can hope for relief from his former party Congress, which appears unsure of making him its main target. And that’s not owing to any thaw in relations, but because of realpolitik. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has been taking the “no vendetta” line on political opponents.

As the head of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP), he may not like his party to take on Khaira as it will raise questions on his stand on former Akali Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was named by three accused — former wrestler and alleged drug kingpin Jagdish Bhola, Amritsar businessman Jagjit Singh Chahal and Maninder Singh alias Bittu Aulukh — in their statements before the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

It will make Amarinder’s own position on the issue untenable as he has publicly declared there is “no evidence against Majithia”.

That was also to silence 40 MLAs of his party who led a signature campaign to demand a probe against Majithia by the special task force (STF) formed by him to “net big fish in the drug trade”. Captain cannot be seen as using different yardsticks on Khaira and Majithia, something which will be questioned not just by the AAP but his own party MLAs.

This also explains why the AAP leader claims that the court summons are the handiwork of his arch rival, power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, and that “the CM is not a part of the witch-hunt”. Khaira’s recent photo-op with the CM on the pretext of seeking royalty from Rajasthan for Punjab’s waters was also a sign that he needs more friends outside his party than inside.

This comes at a time when the AAP’s Delhi leadership has left Khaira to fight his own battles as a counter to his demand for greater autonomy to the state unit. Amarinder also needs friends outside the Congress to take the wind out of the sails of his likely successors and the detractors.

Even Rana Gurjit questions why Khaira should be the main target in the session. “Why do you think that he should be the main target?” he asked. Unlike Khaira, who had held several press conferences to highlight Rana’s alleged stakes in sand mining auctions, the minister has not gone to town asking Khaira to put in his papers.

State Congress president and Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar too says the party has more than Khaira on its mind for the house session.

He said, “It is the CM’s prerogative to decide the floor strategy. Khaira will be the only issue for Akalis. We will ask what AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal has to say on Khaira claiming to be the torch-bearer against the drug problem in Punjab. But we also have other concerns, including the report of the all-party committee on farm suicides and highlighting the smooth procurement of paddy.”

The man behind the campaign against Majithia, Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa, said that if the Akalis demand resignation from Khaira, he will demand that Majithia too resign.

“Khaira has himself demanded a CBI inquiry into the case against him. The central agency should probe all politicians whose names have cropped up in any investigation,” he added. But some Congress MLAs feel the party should take on Khaira, at least for the sake of optics.

Luckily for the Congress, a mere three-day session will leave no time or inclination for either the AAP or the SAD to question the government on when will farm debts actually be written off, or demand proof behind the arrest of UK national Jagtar Singh Johal for targeted killings of right-wing leaders. It can afford to watch the action between the two opposition parties.

First Published: Nov 26, 2017 09:37 IST