In a dramatic turn of events, Punjab Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira was arrested by the Punjab Police on Thursday in connection with a drug trade case dating back to 2015. This arrest has reignited a long-standing controversy, as Khaira had previously been defended by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the current Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann in the same case in 2017.
Senior Congress leaders in 2022 had protested against Khaira’s entry into the party, citing this pending case. Khaira, on his part, has alleged political vendetta on the part of the Bhagwant Mann government in his arrest in a case that involved the smuggling of drugs into Fazilka from Pakistan. At the time of the case, Khaira was a member of the Congress party, and it was filed during the rule of the Akali-BJP coalition in the state. However, in 2015, Khaira switched allegiance to the Aam Aadmi Party.
Bhagwant Mann, who is now the Chief Minister of Punjab, had vociferously supported Khaira in 2017 when non-bailable warrants were issued against him. Mann had stated that there was nothing substantial in the case and that it was purely political vendetta orchestrated by both the Congress and Akali Dal. He also emphasized that Khaira’s name was neither in the FIR nor in the chargesheet. The AAP government is now justifying Khaira’s arrest with a “fresh probe.”
In 2017, Khaira won an Assembly seat on an AAP ticket but later parted ways with the party and spent 75 days in jail. Notably, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) currently handling the case is headed by the same officer who was the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in Fazilka in 2015 when the case was initially registered. Khaira had previously accused this officer of personal vendetta.
In a surprising twist, Captain Amarinder Singh inducted Khaira back into the Congress in 2022, with the state party leadership, including Partap Singh Bajwa and Raja Singh Warring, rallying behind him. However, this move was met with strong opposition from within the Congress ranks, with leaders questioning how the party could field a candidate tainted by drug charges.
Despite these objections, Khaira contested the 2022 elections for Congress after securing bail and emerged victorious. The AAP government in Punjab has faced criticism for its inability to curb the drug menace during its 18 months in power. Khaira’s arrest is being viewed as an attempt to demonstrate the Mann government’s commitment to cracking down on major players in the drug trade.
Sources have suggested that this action is aimed at showcasing the government’s determination to go after the ‘big fish’ involved in drug trafficking.