Who is Sukhpal Singh Khaira? Can His Arrest Split AAP & Congress in INDIA Bloc?

Due to his firebrand ways, Sukhpal Khaira is often said to be Punjab's permanent Opposition. Why was he arrested?

4 min read
Hindi Female

Punjab Congress leader and MLA from Bholath, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, has been arrested by the Punjab Police in an alleged drug case from 2015. Khaira was arrested from his Chandigarh residence on 28 September.

Khaira also happens to be the national chairman of the Congress' Kisan Morcha (farmers' cell) and his arrest could put a strain on the ties between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party that is in power in Punjab. Both the parties are key players in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

What is the Case Against Sukhpal Khaira?

A case against Khaira was lodged by the Jalalabad Police on 9 March 2015, under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in 2015.

The case involved seizure of 2 kg of heroin and gold biscuits from a vehicle. The police had arrested nine people after the seizure. The police alleges that one of them, named Gurdev Singh, was an aide of Khaira.


The police claims that Khaira had spoken to Gurdev Singh several times before the arrest.

Khaira, on his part, alleges that the case was lodged as part of a 'witch-hunt' by the then Akali Dal-BJP government and is being carried forward by the AAP government eight years later with the same intent.

Questions have been raised around the case because Khaira wasn't originally an accused in the case and his name was added after the trial had already been completed.

This was when the Akali-BJP government was in power. Khaira appealed the decision and the matter eventually reached the Supreme Court. In 2022, the court ruled in Khaira's favour, saying that the prosecution needs to put forward evidence afresh and that it cannot add him as an accused at this juncture.

Khaira claims that both the earlier Akali-BJP government and now the AAP government are targeting him because he has been "exposing" their alleged misdeeds.

He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in 2021 and was released on bail later.

In May this year, Khaira had alleged that CM Bhagwant Mann has plans to get him arrested "out of pure hatred". He had also said that he won't be cowed down.

In 2018, the Justice Mehtab Singh Gill panel had accused the earlier SAD-BJP government of registering "motivated cases" to frame Khaira. When the Gill panel report came out, Khaira was in AAP.


Who is Sukhpal Singh Khaira?

Sukhpal Khaira, 58, is a second generation politician and son of Akali Dal leader and former Punjab minister Sukhjinder Singh Khaira.

He began his career as a village Panchayat member in 1994 and joined the Youth Congress in 1997. He grew in the Congress ranks and became the Kapurthala district president of the Congress in 2005.

However, he is said to be more in the Akali mould in terms of political style, mainly due to his family background.

Due to his firebrand ways, Khaira is often considered a Punjab politician who is "permanently in Opposition".

In 2014, he resigned from the Congress and joined AAP a little before the 2017 polls. He became Punjab's leader of the Opposition in 2017 after HS Phoolka resigned. However, he was removed a year later. He subsequently left AAP and formed the Punjab Ekta Party and the Punjab Democratic Alliance.

Though the alliance didn't win a seat, it did surprisingly well in terms of vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Khaira, however, lost his deposit contesting against Harsimrat Badal and Raja Warring in Bathinda.

Khaira returned to the Congress in 2021 and was one of the few non-AAP candidates to win in the 2022 AAP wave.

In Kapurthala district of Punjab's Doaba region, Khaira has been at odds with two powerful leaders - Rana Gurjeet Singh within the Congress and Bibi Jagir Kaur from the Akali Dal.
Due to his firebrand ways, Sukhpal Khaira is often said to be Punjab's permanent Opposition. Why was he arrested?

Rana Gurjit Singh.

(File Photo: IANS)

In the run-up to the 2022 elections, Rana Gurjeet had even written a letter to then Congress president Sonia Gandhi asking for Khaira to be denied a ticket.

It is said that in the 2022 elections, Khaira was up against not just Jagir Kaur and AAP as his rivals but also Rana Gurjeet from within his own party.

However, his popularity in the area and his image of being an independent and outspoken leader helped Khaira win.

Though in the Congress, Khaira is seen as a Panthic politician and takes a strong stand on issues like Sikh identity and sacrilege.

He was one of the few mainstream politicians to share a stage with now-jailed Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh.


Can Khaira's Arrest Harm INDIA Bloc?

While the AAP government in Punjab has presented the arrest as "the law taking its course", the Congress has slammed it. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has said, "Injustice won't be tolerated".

No doubt, this would put a strain on the relations between Congress and AAP within the INDIA bloc.

However, an electoral alliance between the two parties isn't critical to the INDIA bloc's prospects. This is because AAP's area of influence is mainly in Punjab and Delhi and to a certain extent Goa and Gujarat.

In Gujarat, even an Congress-AAP alliance isn't really going to help them challenge the BJP's might.

Conversely in Punjab, the BJP isn't a major player except in three seats out of 13. So even if AAP and Congress don't contest as allies, it won't make a difference in the larger picture.

In fact, some friction between the two parties in Punjab may actually be good and help AAP consolidate votes that are in favour of the state government and Congress corner a larger share of the state level anti-incumbency vote.

As far as Khaira is concerned, the arrest could give his personal popularity a boost as there is a perception among certain sections that he's being wrongly targeted and that he isn't in the same category as many of the other Congress and Akali leaders facing cases.

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