NEW DELHI: Opposition’s INDIA (India National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) faces yet another challenge, from within. This time it is from Punjab, where the AAP and the Congress – allies in the anti-BJP alliance – are at loggerheads in the state.
The strain in ties follows the arrest of Congress MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira by the AAP’s Punjab government in connection with a 2015 drug trafficking case.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday reaffirmed his commitment to INDIA even as the Congress called the MLA’s arrest shameful and accused the AAP government of vendetta politics. However, the Congress made it clear that the issue will not impact the INDIA bloc.
Arvind Kejriwal on Sukhpal Khaira: Committed to INDIA bloc, but won’t spare anyone dealing with drugs
“Any assault on free speech and any assault on opposition, which smacks of vendetta politics, must and should be denounced. We absolutely denounce the arrest of Khaira Ji. However, it will not impact the alliance,” said Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.
Punjab Congress leaders have called Khaira’s arrest a “political vendetta” by the AAP government in Punjab and have announced to fight it legally and on the streets.
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, who had used the term “jungle raj” over Khaira’s arrest, said: “Vendetta politics is being done by involving him (Sukhpal Singh Khaira) in an old case. We will first meet Khaira and after meeting him we will decide what we have to do. This is being done to take revenge.”
However, the Punjab Police did not let the Congress leaders meet the arrested MLA.
Leader of opposition in the Punjab legislative assembly Partap Singh Bajwa reacted strongly and called it pressure tactics of the AAP government.
“Went to meet our MLA Sukhpal Khaira in Fazilka today with the senior leadership of Punjab Congress. The police stopped us from meeting him. We will fight this vendetta of the AAP party legally and on the streets. We won’t be cowed down by such pressure tactics,” Bajwa posted on X.
Bajwa also targeted Punjab chief minister and said: “I want to condemn Bhawant Mann’s action. Mann thinks he will be in the government forever but he is wrong everyone has to go and his government will also go,” he said while speaking to reporters outside Sardar police station.”
Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge had on Thursday said that his party will not tolerate injustice.
‘Jungle Raj’ in Punjab: State BJP, Congress leaders slam Kejriwal over Sukhpal Khaira arrest
When asked about the arrest of Congress MLA, Arvind Kejriwal said: “I have come to know that the Punjab Police arrested some Congress leader yesterday. I do not have its details; Punjab Police will tell it. But we have waged a war against drugs. I would not like to comment on any individual case or person, but we are committed to end drug addiction. In this war against drugs, no matter how big or small a person is, he will not be spared.”
Clearly the arrest will challenge the ties between the two allies to the hilt. Punjab Congress leaders, just like the party’s Delhi unit, are dead against any alliance with Kejriwal’s party.
This is not the first time that the two parties are sparring. Congress and AAP had got into a verbal duel earlier also when the Delhi Congress unit had announced that it is preparing for a strong contest in all the 7 Lok Sabha seats of the national capital.
Since AAP has a majority government in Delhi, it took umbrage to the remarks made by a Delhi Congress spokesperson, who said that the party was gearing up to .
Reacting to the statement, the AAP threatened to boycott the Mumbai meeting of the opposition alliance. Kejriwal’s party eventually did join the meeting, but only after the Congress dissociated itself with the remarks of the spokesperson and also issued a clarification.
In fact, ahead of the second opposition conclave in Bengaluru also, Arvind Kejriwal’s party had announced that it will participate in the meeting only if the Congress makes an open announcement to oppose the Delhi Services Bill in Parliament.
The Congress eventually did make a public statement to oppose the Bill. It’s a different matter though that the Bill was passed smoothly in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha despite all INIDA parties backing Kejriwal.
The road ahead will surely not be easy for both the Congress and AAP as they balance their political interests in states with the larger interest of opposition unity at the national level to oppose BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
In Punjab, where the AAP decimated the Congress in the last assembly elections, the leaders of the grand old party fear that any soft approach against Kejriwal’s party will help the Akalis and the BJP usurp the opposition space.
But AAP wants the Congress to accept its dominance in Punjab and Delhi and play second fiddle in state politics, just like Mamata wants her space in West Bengal.
(With inputs from agencies)
Watch Does Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s arrest put Congress-AAP alliance talk in trouble in Punjab?