Khaira’s arrest has the potential to strain relations between Congressand AAP, both constituents of the opposition INDIA bloc.The MLA claimed his arrest was political vendetta, butAAP said it was based on evidence.
This development comes after Punjab Congress functionaries rejected AAP’s seat-sharing proposal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. AAP had also recently threatened to withdraw from INDIA due to unfavourable comments from a Delhi Congress functionary regarding a possible tie-up between the two parties in Delhi.Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge weighed in on Khaira’s arrest with a warning: “I will seek details… But regardless of the circumstances, those who commit injustices do not thrive for long. If anyone wrongs us, we are not ones to tolerate it.”
Khaira, the MLA for Bholath, appeared in a Jalalabad court later in the day after a medical examination. The court remanded him in police custody for two days.
“Drug-free Punjab is Bhagwant Mann govt’s priority…” Punjab Health Minister on Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s Arrest
As one of the most vocal critics of the AAP government among Punjab Congress MLAs, the 58-year-old Khaira alleged that he was arrested in a false case that the Supreme Court had already dismissed the summons for. “I am being targeted because I have been vehemently opposing and exposing the Bhagwant Mann government, with the chief minister pursuing a personal vendetta against me,” Khaira claimed. He also accused the CM of targeting him for questioning the expenses related to the recent “royal marriage” of AAP Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha.
The NDPS case against Khaira is connected to a trans-border heroin smuggling ring, resulting in the arrest of eight people and the seizure of 2kg of heroin, two Pakistani SIM cards, one Pakistani mobile phone, 24 gold biscuits, and two small firearms. The primary allegations against Khaira involve supporting an international smuggling gang, providing them shelter, and receiving financial benefits from drug traffickers.
It is claimed that the funds received were used to purchase properties. According to the chargesheet, between 2014 and 2020, Khaira reportedly spent over Rs 6.5 crore on himself and his family members, exceeding his declared income.
Earlier, two cases were filed against him in Kapurthala district, one for obstructing a public servant from performing his duty and the other related to a family ancestral land dispute dating back over 50 years. Khaira obtained bail in these cases and was not arrested.
AAP chief spokesperson Malvinder Singh Kang dismissed claims that Khaira’s arrest was politically motivated. “These are all baseless allegations. His arrest was based on evidence uncovered by the special investigation team (SIT),” he said, informing that in 2022, the Supreme Court granted relief to Khaira but allowed Punjab Police to reinvestigate the case, resulting in the discovery of sufficient evidence against him in drug smuggling.
Following the formation of INDIA, there was a period of calm in which the AAP government did not target Congress functionaries. It now appears that the truce has dissipated, and Khaira’s arrest could further complicate the alliance issue, a significant topic of discussion within the opposition alliance.
(With inputs from Jalandhar, Bathinda and Jalalabad)
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