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New Delhi: In a major setback to the Congress in Punjab, four of its leaders and former ministers, Raj Kumar Verka, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Sunder Sham Arora and Gurpreet Singh Kangar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday, June 4.
Former Congress MLA from Barnala, Kewal Dhillon, and former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLAs Sarup Chand Singla and Mohinder Kaur Josh also joined the BJP.
They joined the BJP in the presence of Union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Som Parkash, state unit chief Ashwani Sharma, and senior party leaders Dushyant Gautam, Tarun Chugh, Sunil Jakhar and Manjinder Singh Sirsa.
Four Congress leaders who joined the BJP were also present at Jakhar’s residence.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said these leaders betrayed the party.
Balbir Sidhu, a three-time MLA from Mohali, was the health minister in the previous Congress government, while Gurpreet Kangar, a three-time MLA from Rampura Phul, was the revenue minister.
Verka, a prominent Dalit leader from the Majha region, is also a three-time legislator and was the minister for social justice and empowerment and minorities in the previous government.
Sunder Sham Arora, a former MLA from Hoshiarpur, was the industry and commerce minister in the previous Congress government.
Balbir Sidhu’s brother Amarjit Singh Sidhu, who is the mayor of Mohali corporation, also joined the BJP.
Balbir Sidhu, Sunder Sham Arora and Gurpreet Kangar were dropped from the ministries after the Congress replaced Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister last year.
The induction of four senior leaders of the Punjab Congress into the BJP is being seen as a big gain for the saffron party which is expanding its presence in the state.
Verka is a Dalit face while Kangar and Sidhu are Jat leaders, and Arora is a Hindu face.
After Sunil Jakhar left the Congress and joined the saffron party, it was speculated that more leaders would quit the grand old party.
Union home minister Amit Shah was also in Chandigarh on Saturday, June 4, for a meeting with party leaders and to inaugurate the Khelo India Youth Games in Haryana’s Panchkula.
After inaugurating the Khelo India Youth Games, Shah went to party leader Sunil Jakhar’s house in Panchkula, Union sports minister Anurag Thakur and Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar also reached there.
Addressing state BJP leaders, including core group members, office-bearers and district presidents, Shah exuded confidence that the BJP will play a big role in the politics of Punjab and will emerge as the largest party in the state in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
“BJP will play a big role in the state politics…Whosoever wants to join hands with us will have to be a small partner and we will also welcome those who want to come into the BJP fold,” he said, according to Indian Express.
The Union home minister also hit out at the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the state. He said within three months of AAP assuming office in Punjab its “deceit and deception has been exposed.”
“One shudders to think what will it (AAP) do in five years,” he said, obliquely referring to the emerging law-and-order situation in the state.
‘Blessing in disguise’: Congress
Reacting to the desertions by his party colleagues, Punjab Congress chief Warring said all those leaders who deserted the party and joined the BJP had betrayed the Congress like an “ungrateful son deserts his mother.”
“Scared, they apparently wanted safe, secure political asylum, somewhere and the BJP provided it,” Warring said.
“They owe their current stature, which qualified them for the new political asylum, to Indian National Congress, which groomed them like a mother grooms her children,” he said.
“And when it was their turn to reciprocate, they betrayed their mother for greener, nay, saffron pastures,” he alleged.
The PCC president said while the loss of any leader or a worker would be felt by the party, at the same time it would lead to more openings and opportunities for the loyal and fresh blood whose progress otherwise gets blocked.
Describing the desertions as a “blessing in disguise”, Warring launched a scathing attack on them. He said the saffron party had taken “trash” into its fold and would realise in the next elections what a tohfa (gift) it had accepted, according to Indian Express.
He said Congress suffered a political debacle thanks to such leaders. The party could win only 18 seats in the 117-member Assembly in the February 20 elections. Warring was one of the winners.
He said, “Best of luck for joining the BJP. Grateful that the elite who enjoyed all the privileges in the party have vacated the space for younger leadership from common background.”
He pointed out that many of the leaders who deserted the party had got all the privileges, with their sons and brothers occupying all prestigious and powerful positions at the cost of other loyal and hardworking leaders and workers.
Alleging that these leaders were gripped by some fear for reasons not publicly unknown, he said, “Hope you all now feel safe and secure in your new saffron pastures as you were obsessively stressed and scared for the reasons best known to you and not publicly unknown, either.”