Bholath legislator Sukhpal Khaira, 2 rebel AAP MLAs join Congress

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Chandigarh, Jun 3 (PTI) Bholath Assembly segment legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira and two rebel AAP MLAs Jagdev Singh Kamalu and Pirmal Singh Khalsa joined the Congress on Thursday, at a time the ruling party in Punjab is embroiled in infighting and factionalism.

All of them have tendered their resignation as MLAs to the Assembly speaker, officials said.

Khaira returned to the Congress nearly six years after quitting it.

He had joined the AAP in December 2015 and was elected from Bholath assembly seat in 2017. He resigned from the primary membership of the AAP in January 2019 and had floated his own outfit -- Punjabi Ekta Party.

Jagdev Singh Kamalu is a legislator from Maur seat and Pirmal Singh Dhaula an MLA from Bhadaur. Both are first-time legislators.

The MLAs were inducted into the Congress party before Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was to head for Delhi to attend a meeting with a three-member panel formed to resolve differences among its leaders in Punjab.

Amarinder Singh and his former cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu have been at loggerheads in the recent past. Sidhu has publicly criticised the chief minister over the 2015 sacrilege issue in Faridkot's Kotkapura.

'Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, before leaving for Delhi today, welcomed Sukhpal Khaira, MLA and former Leader of Opposition, and his two AAP MLA colleagues namely Jagdev Singh Kamalu, MLA Maur and Pirmal Singh Dhaula, MLA Bhadaur into the party fold,' according to a tweet of the Punjab Congress.

In a Facebook post of the Punjab Congress, the chief minister said induction of the three senior leaders has been approved by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

He said since the AICC General Secretary (in charge of Punjab) Harish Rawat and state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar were busy in the consultation process with the three-member committee in Delhi, their blessings would be sought within a few days.

Amarinder Singh said he was of the firm opinion that the Congress party stands strengthened with the joining of Khaira and his colleagues.

Patiala MP Preneet Kaur, who was also present during the joining ceremony here, said the three legislators shall prove to be a big asset for the party.

The induction of three rebel AAP MLAs comes at a time when a three-member panel formed by the Congress has been meeting party leaders including MLAs, ministers and MPs in Delhi to hear out their concerns.

The panel is led by Rajya Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge while All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of Punjab Affairs Harish Rawat and former MP J P Aggarwal are its members.

After joining the party on Thursday, Khaira said, 'Congress was the only viable platform that can save India from the fascist and fanatic rule of the BJP.' In a statement, he also said only the Congress party can prevent the Badals from 'looting' Punjab.

Khaira said he and his colleagues, after due diligence, have decided to join the Congress in the larger interest of the country and that of Punjab.

Earlier in a Facebook post, Khaira thanked party president Sonia Gandhi and leader Rahul Gandhi. The former leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly heaped praise on Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for his stand on the three Central farm legislations and river water issues.

He also said justice will definitely be delivered in the 2015 sacrilege and subsequent police firing incidents in Faridkot's Kotkapura.

Khaira termed his decision of joining the Aam Aadmi Party a 'political blunder' and that it was a 'mistake'.

Alleging that there was 'complete dictatorship' in the Arvind Kejriwal-led party, he claimed that several leaders like Sucha Singh Chhottepur, Dharamvira Gandhi and Gurpreet Ghuggi were 'victims' of the AAP leadership.

They were also 'humiliated' and it was important for them to 'expose' the AAP leadership, Khaira claimed.

Reacting to the development, AAP MP Bhagwant Mann said Khaira used to attack the Congress when he was the leader of the opposition and asked him whether 'sand and transport mafias' had now ended in the state.

AAP leader Raghav Chadha said the three MLAs were expected to join the Congress.

'For us, Punjab's issues are more important. We do not give any attention towards such opportunist people,' Chadha said.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal claimed that the Congress and AAP were 'playing a fixed match' and that the main opposition had continuously allowed its MLAs to shift their loyalties to the Congress as part of an 'unofficial tie-up'.

This is a constitutional and democratic 'fraud' perpetrated on the people of Punjab, he said.

Khaira had been critical of the AAP leadership, decrying lack of autonomy in the party's state unit. He had even criticized Arvind Kejriwal after he had tendered an apology to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia after accusing him of being involved in drugs trade.

Along with a few AAP legislators, Khaira had rebelled against the AAP after he was unceremoniously removed as the Leader of Opposition of the Punjab Assembly in 2018. After quitting the AAP, Khaira had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bathinda seat on his Punjabi Ekta Party ticket.

The AAP has been seeking disqualification of Khaira as an MLA under the anti-defection law. PTI CHS VSD NSD NSD

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