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With reverse sweep, Congress counters Khaira’s spin on last day of assembly

As Akalis decide not to go after leader of opposition, govt changes strategy to contain him by escalating his run-in with judiciary

punjab Updated: Nov 30, 2017 11:16 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Khaira,Sukhpal Khaira,Amarinder Singh
AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu makes a point as leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira wipes his tears after an emotional outburst at a press conference in Chandigarh on Wednesday.(HT Photo)

Punjab assembly’s winter session started with a “sting” by the opposition. It ended with the government adding its own sting to the tale.

A day after being silent spectator to the standoff over drug cases between both the opposition parties, the Captain Amarinder Singh government decided to ambush leader of opposition Sukhpal Khaira of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) by escalating his run-in with the judiciary.

As the session came to a close on Wednesday, the government brought in a resolution condemning members of the AAP and its ally, Lok Insaaf Party (LIP), for bringing “a staged audio clip to tarnish the image of the judiciary”. LIP’s Simarjeet Bains and Balwinder Bains had alleged kickbacks to a Punjab and Haryana high court judge for not staying a trial court’s summons to Khaira in a drug case.

Though the thinking of the Congress spinmasters was to let the AAP and the SAD-BJP slug it out, the Akalis changed their script and did not go after Khaira the way they had been posturing, giving the AAP leader an upper hand.

With the municipal polls ahead — schedule to be out on Thursday -- the government decided to contain Khaira, who it felt was “over-projecting” himself. The government’s move hit many targets. It has compounded the judicial troubles of Khaira and demolished the perception that it chose to be silent on drug charges against him, something the Akalis would have used to their advantage.

Most importantly,it has shown the government withholding the dignity of the judiciary which has not taken kindly to the aspersions.

Behind the change of plan is also Captain's legal hawks telling him that the audio clip would hold no water under judicial scrutiny. Khaira and Bains brothers had met the HC chief justice with the audio clip on Monday and demanded a judicial probe.

Many in the Congress believe the CM’s stand of “no political vendetta” too is based on the surmise that the legal troubles of both Khaira and former Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia are enough and he does not need to gun for either. The HC had on Tuesday asked the special task force (STF) set up by the Amarinder government to look into drug cases to also probe Majithia’s alleged role.

Cornered by the government, Khaira decided to be brash rather than use reason. He hit out at Amarinder’s “friend from Pakistan” and used expletives for Congress leaders at a press conference.

Earlier in the day, he had to apologise to parliamentary affairs minister Brahm Mohindra and local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu inside the House after accusing all Congress ministers and MLAs of being involved in illegal sand mining. The speaker too called out his name thrice.

His conduct inside the House left the ruling party’s power circle feeling that the “expose” had emboldened Khaira. So it played a reverse sweep. It did not hit Khaira in the drug case but put him in the dock for “insulting” the judiciary.

State Congress chief Sunil Jakhar reasons that the government resolution has shown it has no tolerance for drugs and to disrespect to judiciary. Unlike the last session when the AAP-Akalis bonhomie caught it unawares, the ruling party decided to have some surprises up its sleeve this time.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 11:16 IST