The Congress on Sunday announced that the fourth meeting of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) will be held on December 19.
In a jolt to Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) in Punjab, three-time Congress legislator from Bholath and chairman of All India Kissan Congress Sukhpal Khaira was on Thursday arrested in connection with a 2015 drugs case.
He has been sent to a two-day remand by a court in Jalalabad.
With Khaira and Punjab Congress leaders blaming the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the arrest, the possibility of the two parties, which are part of the Opposition INDIA bloc formed against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, reaching a seat-sharing arrangement in Punjab for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls appears to be difficult.
A delegation of the Congress met the Punjab governor this evening to register a protest against the arrest and vowed to fight the political vendetta against party leaders in the state.
Asked about the fate of the INDIA bloc, Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring said the state leadership has conveyed its feelings (against seat-sharing with AAP in Punjab) to the Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge. Kharge assured them that no decision would be taken without their consent.
Warring said Khaira’s arrest smacks of political vendetta. “…It is an attempt to intimidate the Opposition and a ploy by the AAP government in Punjab to distract (attention of the people) from core issues. We stand strongly with Sukhpal Khaira and will take this fight to its logical conclusion,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa said the AAP Government in the state has stooped to an all-time low resorting to vendetta politics by breaking into Khaira’s house at 6.15 am without showing arrest warrants.
“Khaira has been outspoken and raised his voice against the wrongdoings and irregularities committed by the Bhagwant Mann Government,” he said.
The AAP, however, maintained that the new special investigation team (SIT) has found enough evidence during its investigation to prove Khaira’s involvement in drug smuggling.
AAP’s Punjab Chief Spokesperson Malvinder Singh Kang said Khaira’s arrest denied political vendetta behind the arrest. “The arrest was made on the basis of evidence found against him (Khaira) during the SIT investigation. If we wanted any political revenge, we have a government in Punjab for more than a year and a half now, he would have been arrested earlier,” Kang said.
The AAP spokesperson said in 2022, the Supreme Court had given relief to Sukhpal Khaira but had clearly written in its order that the Punjab Police could re-investigate the case. “Based on the order of the Supreme Court, an SIT of Punjab Police started re-investigation of this case,” he said.
Kang pointed out that both Manjeet Singh and Gurdev Singh, against whom allegations of drug smuggling were made in a case during the SAD-BJP government in 2015, are close to Khaira.
He said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had also registered a case of money laundering against Khaira at that time and he had also gone to jail in that case. The matter is very serious because of its connections from Pakistan to the UK.
Making an appeal to all the political parties of Punjab, Kang said if the Opposition parties want to irradicate the drug menace from Punjab, they shouldn’t oppose the arrest of Sukhpal Khaira. If any party opposes this, it will be clear that they are in support of drug smugglers, he added.
Meanwhile, Khaira was produced in a court in Jalalabad and was remanded to two-day police custody in the case registered against him under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. The police had sought seven-day custody but the chief judicial magistrate of Jalalabad gave only two-day remand.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Khaira alleged that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was behind his arrest. “They (the AAP leaders) used to say that we were doing ‘badlaav ki rajneeti (politics of change)’ while in fact, they are indulging in ‘badle ki rajneeti (politics of revenge)’. Bhagwant Mann has become thirsty for blood. I won’t be surprised if he gets me eliminated. I sense something very dangerous and he would be solely responsible for it,” he said.
Khaira, who has been critical of the AAP Government on various issues, claimed that he was being apprehended in a false case and that jungle raj was prevailing in the state.
The drug case was registered in March 2015 at Jalalabad in Fazilka. Nine people booked in the case were later convicted under the NDPS Act. The police had recovered two kilogram of heroin, 24 gold biscuits, one country-made pistol, a .315-bore pistol, and two Pakistani SIMs from their possession.
Khaira’s name cropped up later during the police probe. However, in 2017, the Supreme Court stayed the trial court proceedings against Khaira, who was summoned as an additional accused in the case.
He was arrested by the ED in 2021 on charges of money laundering linked to the 2015 drug case. However, he was granted bail in 2022. In February 2023, the apex court quashed the summons against Khaira in the 2015 drugs case.