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Rabble-rouser Khaira no stranger to controversies

The two-time MLA has hurtled from controversy to crisis as leader of opposition, with the latest one on ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign being the most damaging

punjab Updated: Jun 19, 2018 09:35 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Referendum 2020,Sukhpal Singh Khaira,Punjab
Leader of opposition in Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira (HT File Photo)

Leader of opposition in Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira is no stranger to controversies, often putting the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a spot.

The controversy over his purported statement on Referendum 2020 – a movement initiated by US-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) for a separate Sikh state — has not just left the AAP leaders red-faced, but also revived memories of the party’s dalliance with radicals in the run-up to the state assembly polls last year.

While many saw it as his attempt to appropriate the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Panthic agenda, Khaira has denied having made such remarks, accusing the media of “distortion”. Sunam MLA Aman Arora, who was among the first to distance himself from the statement, has found his clarification “convincing”. The damage has already been done though, showing the Punjab AAP as a unit lacking cohesiveness once again. And, this is just the latest in a series of controversies he has been embroiled in as the leader of opposition in the state assembly.

Adversarial style

When Khaira was named as the leader of opposition by the AAP eleven months ago, he was expected to breathe life into the party after its lacklustre showing in the state assembly. The firebrand two-time MLA from Bholath was already riding high after digging up dirt on the auction of sand mines involving alleged benami transactions of the then power minister and his old bête noire Rana Gurjit Singh, who had to quit the state cabinet eventually. He carried on his no-holds-barred attacks on the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), lending the party new energy.

Before he could make his first appearance in the state assembly as the leader of opposition, there was a controversy regarding his alleged dealings with a drug smuggler, providing ammunition to the Congress and the SAD against him. A Fazilka court had issued summons to Khaira and some others in the case which the Supreme Court later stayed.

The AAP leader was again in the eye of the storm when he lost his cool in the state assembly on November 20, 2017, and hit out at chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, using intemperate language and taking swipes at his private life. In March this year, when AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tendered an apology to Akali leader Bikram Majithia over drug charges to settle a defamation case, Khaira was among the party leaders who publicly hit out against him. “It has been a roller coaster. We do not know what will hit us next. Khaira and others need to show restraint in their public utterances and try to work together,” said a party leader who did not want to be named.

Headline hunter

Though a section of the AAP finds Khaira’s love for publicity as the prime reason for his troubles, he is media’s delight, given his “a-quote-a-day” style and hectoring attacks on rivals. Khaira has been holding three press conferences a week sometimes. At times, he even spoke on party matters, irking some of his colleagues who started issuing their own separate statements, leading to contractions.

Those who know him describe Khaira as an “emotional person who is in a hurry to prove himself”. However, there are those who see otherwise, calling him a “headline hunter prone to scoring self-goals”. Despite all controversies, he remains the AAP’s best bet as of now, but for how long if the slide in the party’s graph continues.

First Published: Jun 19, 2018 09:34 IST