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Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the Congress MLA from Bhothal, was on September 28 arrested by the Punjab Police in a drugs case that dates back to 2015. The legislator was picked up from his Chandigarh-based residence in the wee hours of the day, at around 6 am, and the incident was live-streamed on social media by his son.

While the police was yet to issue a statement by the time preliminary reports emerged, officials in the video could be heard telling Khaira that the case was registered eight years ago under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in Jalalabad, Fazilka.

The manner in which Khaira was arrested drew condemnation from an array of Punjab’s opposition parties. “If MLA’s are treated this way, what chance does the common man have?” Sangrur MP and SAD (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann said, as he tweeted the video of the arrest.

 

Khaira, a fierce baiter of the state-ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had severely criticised the “lavish” expenditure at the wedding of AAP MP Raghav Chaddha and actress Parineeti Chopra in his last social media post before the arrest.

On X, Khaira had cited an unverified news report to claim that the wedding ring which Chaddha gave to Chopra was of “4 carat diamond”, and questioned how he could afford it when his income is “merely 2.44 lakh” as per the tax records furning for FY2020-21.

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“Will @raghav_chadha have the decency to clarify how he managed to gift a 4 Carat very expensive diamond ring to his newly wedded wife @ParineetiChopra (more than 10 times his declared income) while his income according to 2020-21 ITR is merely 2.44 Lacs? While she being a celebrity gifted him with a ring of lesser value? What is the truth? Punjab BADLAV wants to know? (sic)” Khaira had tweeted.

 

Apart from questioning the diamond ring gifted to Chopra, Khaira also condemned the AAP for the “dazzling cavalcades” seen at the wedding in Udaipur on September 24. Chaddha, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Chief MinisterBhagwant Mann had “once vowed not to take government-allotted home, car etc and vowed to end the VIP culture…now they have not only they broken their vows, but are also the new VVIPs of India”, he had said in another social media post.

War of words intensifies

Following Khaira’s arrest, the war of words between the Congress and AAP – both constituents of the INDIA coalition – intensified as the former threw its weight behind the arrested legislator.

“The recent arrest of MLA Sukhpal Khaira smacks of political vendetta. It is an attempt to intimidate the opposition and is a ploy of the AAP government in Punjab to distract (people) from core issues. We stand strongly with Sukhpal Khaira and will take this fight to its logical conclusion,” Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring said.

Leader of Opposition and Congress veteran Partap Singh Bajwa also condemned the arrest, while visiting Khaira’s family members and assuring them of the party’s support.

The AAP rebutted the political vendetta charge, alleging that Khaira’s involvement in drug business was “well-known”.

“The law will take its own course. It is well-known that Sukhpal Khaira ji indulged in the drug business. He kept getting protection from earlier governments. Now, a proper investigation will be conducted,” AAP MP Sushil Gupta said.

‘False implication’

Khaira’s son and advocate Mehtab Singh Khaira released a statement, claiming that his father is being targeted through “false implication”, and the arrest was carried out on the direct orders of Bhagwant Mann.

“This is the same case which was quashed by the Supreme Court of India. The police have bypassed all procedures and even an order of the Supreme Court to gag the voice of a strong and vociferous leader. My father has told me to inform everyone that he is not scared of any false implication and will fight for Punjab till the very end,” the statement noted.

Bajwa said the arrest was “extremely deplorable”, and the ruling AAP has stooped to “new lows” in the state politics.

Notably, the drugs case was registered in March 2015 in Jalalabad, and nine people were booked in the case and later convicted under the NDPS Act. Police had recovered 2 kg of heroin, 24 gold biscuits, one country-made pistol, a .315-bore pistol and two Pakistani SIM cards from them.

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 matter. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in 2021 on the charge of money laundering linked to the 2015 drug case. He was granted bail in 2022.

In February 2023, the apex court quashed the summoning order against Khaira in the drugs case.

SAD (Amritsar), BJP’s Sirsa lend support

SAD (Amritsar), led by Simranjeet Singh Mann, opposed the arrest of Khaira, saying that the action appears to be a result of “witch hunt” and “political vendetta”.

“Political differences aside- Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar condemns the arrest borne out of the witch hunt and political vendetta against Bholath MLA and a very respected @SukhpalKhaira Ji a fierce critic of @BhagwantMann and @AAPPunjab-led @PunjabGovtIndia. What promised to be a ‘badlav’ is turning out to be a horror show,” the party tweeted.

The support to Congress’ Khaira also came from Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a former MLA from Delhi of the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“I remember a statement by Arvind Kejriwal where he said, ‘give me Police and see what I will be doing’, so that he what is being done. If someone is accused of something, he must be summoned first and make him join the investigation and if he doesn’t answer then arrest him…Punjab Police is being misused…action is being taken against opposition leaders because they are speaking against the govt,” the BJP leader said.

 

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Updated: 28 Sep 2023, 04:23 PM IST

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