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Interview: Harpal Singh Cheema

Harpal Singh Cheema: ‘This time, everybody’s with the AAP’

Published : Feb 08, 2022 06:00 IST

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Harpal Singh Cheema.

Harpal Singh Cheema.

Interview with Harpal Singh Cheema, Aam Aadmi Party leader.

In an election where charges have been traded thick and fast, it takes a particularly intrepid man to go on record claiming that his party will “form the government with a thumping majority”. That man is Harpal Singh Cheema, the Aam Aadmi Party’s MLA from Dirba in Sangrur and also the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha. An advocate by profession, Cheema calls politics his passion. He speaks his mind honestly, fearlessly. He believes that come March 10, the AAP will form its first ever government in Punjab. He told Frontline in an interview: “The results will surprise many people who are projecting a hung Assembly. It is a one-sided election.” Excerpts:

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders claim the fight in this election is between the AAP and the SAD, and that the Congress is likely to be reduced to a mere 15 seats. What do you feel?

I feel both the SAD and the Congress will be limited to 15 seats. Entire villages are voting in favour of the AAP. It is because of the mismanagement and corruption of the Congress. People have seen enough corruption of both the Akalis and the Congress. I have visited villages in my constituency Dirba, and people are fed up with the government. It is a one-sided election. People have made up their minds in favour of the AAP.

But the AAP is not regarded as a party of Punjab. It is said to be a party from Delhi, a kind of an outsider.

This is a deliberate misnomer being spread. I ask the Akalis, what about your ex-alliance partners, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]? Were they from [Parkash Singh] Badal sahib’s Lambi? The BJP’s headquarters was in Delhi when the SAD was in alliance. Same for the Congress. Their headquarters is in Delhi too. So, what’s wrong if the AAP’s headquarters is in Delhi? It is a malicious attempt to project the AAP as an outsider. It is a national party. Our president, our convener, is Arvind Kejriwal. He is also the Chief Minister of Delhi.

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There has been some criticism about Bhagwant Mann being nominated as the chief ministerial candidate. Is it because of a lack of alternatives?

It is not true. The AAP chose him through a transparent democratic process. We gave a phone number to people, asking for their choice. Almost everybody chose Bhagwant Mann. So he is the face of our party’s election campaign. Our opponents cannot dare to show such honesty in selection of the chief ministerial candidate. Both the SAD and the Congress are going to polls without a chief ministerial face.

But the Congress, too, has asked its legislators and voters to choose their chief ministerial candidate through an App…

They can choose whom they want. I believe the AAP is forming the next government. There are no two opinions on that. Speak to the voter in the villages to know the truth. Punjab has had enough of both the SAD and the Congress.

What is the agenda of the AAP for the election?

Our agenda is pro-people. We want to strengthen the education system, both schools and colleges. We have to tackle the issue of unemployment, provide jobs to the youth. We want people to come to Punjab for jobs. We want to free the State of corruption. Punjab has become the fountainhead of corruption. We want to change that. We want to provide clean administration, improve law and order.

Talking of law and order, what is your take on the long-pending issues of drugs and sacrilege?

Whether it is the drugs case or the sacrilege issue, they [the Congress government] have not done justice to Punjab and Punjabis. You see, because of their failure on these fronts, Congress candidates will lose their deposits. The media are underestimating the anger of the people.

According to you, how many seats is the AAP likely to get?

We will form the government with a clear mandate. It will be a decisive verdict.

Your party is offering many freebies to voters, such as monthly allowances to women, free electricity, and so on. Is it feasible in a State already reeling under heavy debt?

I agree there is heavy debt but there are ways of overcoming it. We will put an end to corruption, get rid of mafia operating in different fields, and the money will start flowing in. For instance, Punjab is suffering from liquor mafia and sand, land and transport mafia. When we end these avenues of corruption, when we show zero tolerance towards corruption, and provide an honest, clean administration, the money which should have been coming to the State exchequer all these years will start pouring in. The treasury will be filled, and people will get relief. The people who pay taxes will be taken care of. What does the government do for the tax payers? Does it provide quality education to their children, give good medical treatment?

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The properties of the Captains and the Badals multiply all the time, after each term they are richer. But does Punjab have good infrastructure for health? Punjab does not have a single State hospital for cancer treatment. People go to Sri Ganganagar [in Rajasthan] and other places. Most patients go out of the State. The Badals and the Captain [Amarinder Singh] claim they have worked hard for the State. I say, you have not been able to build a single cancer hospital in Punjab. So, what are the big things you have accomplished? The property of the Badals grows, their businesses bloom. The State languishes.

You talked of the Badals and the Captain. Under their respective leadership, their parties have flourished. It has been observed that the poor and the Dalits have always voted for either the Congress or the SAD in all these elections. And upper castes, too, favour them. Where does the AAP fit in?

See, who has voted for whom is a thing of the past. I would like to talk of the present. This time, everybody is with the AAP. I am saying it in all seriousness. I stay with the villagers. I go to their homes, spend time with them. I am not somebody who steps out only at the time of elections. It is a one-sided election. We are going to form the government with a thumping majority.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Feb 25, 2022.)

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