Congress’s Sukhpal Khaira accuses Mann of insulting ‘Sikh hero’ after ‘aira, gaira Nathu Khaira’ jibe

Chandigarh: A police recruitment drive by the Punjab government has led to a war of words between Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and senior Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira. 

Khaira has demanded an unconditional apology from Mann for calling him “aira, gaira, Nathu Khaira (roughly translating to ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’)”, he added. 

Using the phrase in a throwaway manner was an insult to Natha Khaira, an 18th-century Punjab villager who is believed to have played a part in the Sikhs’ struggles against the Mughals.  

It all began last week when Opposition leaders — including Khaira — pointed out that many of those appointed as sub-inspectors in the Punjab Police in the recruitment drive were from outside Punjab. Khaira tweeted a list of seven appointees, noting that six were from Haryana and only one was from Bathinda in Punjab. 

Mann denied the allegations. Speaking at a function in Jalandhar Sunday to hand over the appointment letters to the newly-recruited sub-inspectors, the chief minister said 95 percent of those selected were from within the state and those selected from outside Punjab, too, belonged to Punjabi families.

He also targeted Opposition leaders for criticising him. “How much I love Punjab… how much I love Punjabiat… and how much I love the soil of my state…I do not need an NOC (no objection certificate) from any aire ghaire Nathu Khaire,” the chief minister said, seemingly a dig at Sukhpal Khaira. 

The chief minister’s wordplay drew applause from the crowd.

In a post on X, however, Khaira later said Mann was “foolishly ignorant” about Sikh history and lacked basic knowledge about Punjab’s “glorious past”. 

What the chief minister said was a “gross humiliation of bravehearts” like Natha Khaira, according to Khaira.

“Today he made a joke of Natha Khaira while targeting his opponents,” wrote Khaira, adding that the chief minister must dig into Sikh history books to read about Natha Khaira.  

‘CM drunk with power’

In a longer video message posted on his Facebook page, Khaira talked about the part that Natha Khaira, a resident of Amritsar’s Miran Kot Kalan village, played in the Sikh struggle against the Mughals. In particular, he is known to have sacrificed his life to save Rai Singh, the 7-year-old son of the 18th-century Sikh warrior Mehtab Singh. 

“This happened when Sikhs were being hunted down and executed in Punjab during the mid-18th-century by the Mughals and the armies of (Persian) tyrant Nader Shah,” he said in the video. “Massa Ranghar was a military commander and was made in-charge of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He started desecrating the shrine to provoke the Sikhs by inviting dance women to the temple.”

Two Sikh warriors, Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh, killed Massa Ranghar, he said. 

“The governor of Lahore was livid and asked his men to find and kill Mehtab Singh and Bhai Sukha Singh. While the governor’s men could not find them, they came to know that the 7-year old son of Bhai Mehtab Singh, Rai Singh, was under the protection of a man named Natha Khaira.” 

When the governor’s soldiers surrounded Natha’s village and asked him to hand over the child to them, he refused, Khaira said. 

“The soldiers attacked Natha and his family. Natha along with his son, nephew and servant died protecting 7-year-old Rai Singh. Rai Singh was injured and the governor’s soldiers thought that he was dead and left him there,” Khaira said.

The chief minister, Khaira said, is “so drunk with power that he does not even have a sense of balance when he speaks”. 

“He’s mocking the contribution of those people who have sacrificed their lives for Punjab,” he said. “You can criticise the Opposition a million times, (even) abuse us but at least you shouldn’t joke about those people who have given up their lives for the Sikh religion,” said Khaira.

He added that the actual saying is “aira, ghaira, ne Nathu Khaira”. That means every “Tom, Dick and Harry cannot be Nathu Khaira”. “We are not even equal to Natha Khaira’s feet,” Khaira said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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