Sukhpal Singh Khaira, a maverick who never let a day pass without launching allegations against the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab, had recently taken a highly personal stance, focusing all his outrage on AAP MP Raghav Chadha’s wedding with actor Parineeti Chopra. The glamorous celebrations in Udaipur provided ample ammunition for the Opposition. They pointed out how the “Aam Aadmi” had turned into “khaas”. It’s worth noting that Punjab is notorious for its big, fat weddings.
The week also saw the government swing into action against former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who is an accused in a case of wrongful land allotment. The Bathinda court issued an arrest warrant against him on Tuesday, after the Vigilance Bureau put out a lookout circular. The way the police have been raiding Badal’s residences and associates across five states has again given rise to whispers of vendetta.
It’s a case of friends turning foes. Not too long ago, Bhagwant Mann had entered politics via Manpreet Badal’s now-defunct Punjab People’s Party. The party eventually dissolved, as Badal went on to join the Congress and this year, the BJP. In contrast, Mann aligned himself with Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP. Khaira, now with the Congress, had previously been with the AAP, serving as their Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the 2017 Assembly elections.
It’s a fact he emphasised repeatedly after his arrest, stating that Mann, now the Chief Minister, and other AAP members had supported him in his case.
Mann has, however, dismissed all allegations of a witch-hunt, saying that he is waging a war against corruption, and that anyone who has plundered Punjab and its people will be put behind bars.
Interestingly, the Punjab Police cops looked on rather helplessly as Khaira took to the mike both at home and outside the Fazilka court, to rant against the Mann government, turning his arrest into a drama that was happily lapped up by all and sundry.
The word ‘vendetta’ is being brandished in police circles as well. The Punjab Police had a rather rough week, with a Muktsar advocate who had been arrested accusing them of wrongful confinement, torture and “unnatural sex”. Three officers, including an SP and a DSP, were subsequently arrested while the DIG and SSP were transferred. A day later, the police chief of Tarn Taran was also transferred, after the local AAP MLA accused him of corruption, for wrongfully arresting his brother-in-law in an illegal mining case.
Vendetta isn’t alien to Punjab politics, particularly in the border regions, where political workers often claim that the winning party seeks retribution by filing cases, such as NDPS charges, against workers from rival outfits.
Former Congress CM Amarinder Singh, who is now with the BJP, had famously imprisoned Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal in a disproportionate assets (DA) case in 2003. More recently, the Congress government arrested Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a drugs case in 2022.
Under the AAP government, which came to power with an overwhelming majority, winning 92 of the 117 seats, the Vigilance Bureau has initiated corruption investigations, mostly for possessing assets disproportionate to income, against 17 rivals, including the previous Congress government’s CM (Charanjit Singh Channi), ex-deputy CM (O P Soni) and eight ministers.
Many such as Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Sham Sunder Arora and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot have served time in jail. In July, the VB arrested Soni in a DA case.
Former Congress minister and now BJP leader Gurpreet Singh Kangar was stopped from boarding a flight to Canada from the IGI Airport in Delhi in June.
The VB has also been regularly summoning B I S Chahal, a close aide of Amarinder Singh.
When the Congress witnessed a mass exodus of its leaders to the BJP soon after the AAP’s sweeping victory in 2022, many explained it as an attempt to evade such charges. That hasn’t happened. The AAP government has pressed on with charges against many of them.
As CM Mann never tires of saying, “Sab phade jaange (All the corrupt will be nabbed).”