ONCE PROJECTED AS THIRD-ALTERNATE TO PUNJAB POLITICS, THE AAM AADMI PARTY (AAP) IN PUNJAB IS NOW JUST CLOSE TO A VERTICAL SPLIT. FINDING NO POSSIBILITY OF RAPPROCHEMENT, THE REBEL GROUP IS ALL SET TO ANNOUNCE ITS ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE AFTER NOVEMBER 1. IN A FREEWHEELING INTERACTION WITH DAILYPOST ASSISTANT EDITOR RAJAY DEEP, THE LEADER OF OPPOSITION (LOP) HARPAL SINGH CHEEMA OFFERS TO QUIT HIS POSITION, PROVIDED IT SETTLES DOWN THE TURBULENCE IN THE PARTY. EXCERPTS
DP: Even after three months of your elevation, a group in party still refers you as a ‘Twitter product.’ What is your take?
CHEEMA: It is just a meaningless hype created by the detractors. I would like to remind them that the party, while assigning me the Vidhan Sabha responsibility in July this year, had adopted the same democratic procedure which was followed while selecting my predecessor Sukhpal Singh Khaira. Whereas the‘Tweet’ is concerned, it is just a modern trend that big leaders disseminate major information through tweets these days.
DP: What was the criterion of your selection-caste or capability?
CHEEMA: Leaders of my party from Punjab were consulted at Delhi before assigning the responsibility to me. Caste factor certainly played a key role as I belong to Dalit community which has 34 per cent population in Punjab. Our party wanted to give some encouragement to the weaker section but it doesn’t mean that I was otherwise incapable. I am Post-Graduate in Laws. I have long standing as a practicing lawyer. I was also the district legal cell head in the party.
DP: Your rivals are seeking self-dependence from the bosses sitting in Delhi. What is that?
CHEEMA: I don’t know their agenda. I can just say that there is total independence in the AAP. We take the decisions for our betterment in the state only, but as it is a national party with headquarters in Delhi, we bring the things in their knowledge there and get a seal over the decisions from there. Rest, I wish to remind Khaira that he had remained associated with the Congress for two decades so he shouldn’t have any objection to this procedure.
DP: Coordination panels from both sides held a meeting but the positive result of it still seems a distant dream.
CHEEMA: The meeting was held in a congenial atmosphere and it was revealed to media also by Bhagwant Mann and Kanwar Sandhu both in a joint press briefing. However, on the next morning Khaira Sahib unwarrantedly raised objection to the discussion, which disturbed us all. Still, I am hopeful that the discussion can bring positive results as we are not here for settling personal scores but to address Punjab issues.
DP: They have objection to your expansion list issued recently the same day of coordination panels’ meeting.
CHEEMA: I am surprised to see how they twist the things. The expansion of the structure, in which we declared 14 people assigned with new responsibilities, was announced four hours before the coordination panels’ meeting. If they were having any kind of objection to it, their panel members could raise the issue in the meeting itself. Moreover, the expansion was need of the time as we have less time to go for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which we have to win.
DP: Amid this crisis, when neither 20 MLAs nor four MPs of the party are together, how can you dream of winning
CHEEMA: We are working hand with a positive mindset. People love and support AAP as they know that only this party can emerge the third alternative to redress their grievances and give a good governance.
DP: They are ready to announce parallel structure after November 1 if your party doesn’t accept all of their demands.
CHEEMA: Khaira Sahib must avoid such anti-party activities. We are ready to accept all of their genuine demands. Moreover, if Khaira Sahib wants his candidates to be included in Lok Sabha list or nurture a desire to contest himself, he must approach us. We will certainly give him weightage.
DP: Khaira-led rebel group has sought a complete restructuring of the state unit as a condition to rapprochement.
CHEEMA: We have done nothing against our party’s constitution. They are offensive but we are defensive as we want them back in main stream of the party. So, I would request Khaira and his like-minded those handful of people to shun this illogical demand. Further, I wish to remind Khaira that he had also once sought my support to remain on the position, which I happily did.
DP: You once called the former AAP-allies Bains brothers’ Lok Insaf Party as ‘Mohalla Party”. Do you need them at this juncture?
CHEEMA: No, we don’t need instigators and turncoats. And yes, I had rightly said the Lok Insaf Party (LIP) functioning asw a Mohalla party. One can check their history, Initially they were with SAD (A), then shifted to SAD (B) and later turned independent. Then they moved towards Awaj-ePunjab but finding it unsuccessful plan, they then shook hand with us. And see, now again they are with the rebel group. Notably, they had also voted in favour of BJP during presidential elections, the reason was their aim to get out of a CBI case, in which a closure reports has now been filed.
DP:Do you stand by Sukhpal Khaira’s remarks where he called Amritsar tragedy a small incident?
CHEEMA: I don’t stand by him on this point. It was a major tragedy. We all party leaders went there to express solidarity. And if Khaira Sahib sees it as a small incident, in which at least 61 persons were killed and over 200 got injured, it is a shame for him.
DP:As you were there on stage at Bargari on October 7 when Khalistan demand was being raised, what is your stand on that?
CHEEMA: AAP is no way a supporter of Khalistan demand. We were there on the stage to express our annoyance
with the unsolved incidents of sacrilege and also the subsequent killings of Sikh protesters in police firing. There were a variety of people assembled in the conference there and everyone has its own viewpoint, so we were not supposed to raise any kind of objection to the happenings there.
DP: How do you see the government role in investigating the sacrilege and firing incidents?
CHEEMA: I find it very much shady. The evidence has not been collected properly just to ensure that the culprits get the benefit of law and order machinery’s failure in the courts. I can strongly say that Captain Amarinder Singh is willingly destroying the evidences so that it should not go anyway against Badals, during whose regime such incidents took place.
DP: Khaira is seeking your resignation as a condition to rapprochement, can you think of making this sacrifice?
CHEEMA: At first, if Khaira Sahib wants this to happen as a condition, he should come to me with an appeal considering me his younger brother. Further, I wish to clear it once again that I am ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of my party and welfare of Punjab, be it my resignation from the post, provided it helps people of the state to have good governance.
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