Aam Aadmi Party leader Harvinder Singh Phoolka, who won the Punjab assembly seat from Dakha, has been chosen as the leader of opposition in the 15th Vidhan Sabha. Sukhpal Singh Khaira, state legislator from Bholath, will be the party’s chief whip.
The two leaders were chosen by the AAP’s elected MLAs who met at New Delhi on Wednesday morning in the presence of party convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. With 20 seats, the AAP has emerged as the principal opposition party with its alliance partner Lok Insaaf Party that has two seats, ahead of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance that has 18 MLAs in the newly elected House.
The 60-year-old Supreme Court advocate, Phoolka is known for his fight for justice for victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Among the three contenders for the position of opposition leader (besides Khaira and Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu), Phooka was associated with the AAP the longest and enjoys Kejriwal’s complete confidence. He contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 as the party’s candidate from Ludhiana. Complete with a Panthic countenance, he is known to be Kejriwal’s conscience keeper on Sikh issues. He was instrumental in extracting Kejriwal and his team from political damage following the manifesto controversy. He was the first to offer that Kejriwal and he will go and apologise at the Golden Temple for the inadvertent mistake of superimposing the image of the party’s symbol — a broom — on the picture of the Sikh shrine on the manifesto cover.
KEJRI’S ADVISER ON LEGAL TANGLES
Phoolka was also among the frontrunners for the post of chief minister had the party come to power in the state. He gave up all positions in the party almost a year before the Punjab polls, ostensibly to focus on legal work. However, it seemed like a strategic withdrawal from the hoi polloi of daily politics to retain an unblemished public profile.
He is also Kejriwal’s adviser on all legal tangles. He has already done his homework on the tricky issue of the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.
Phoolka’s name was proposed by Talwandi Sabo MLA Prof Baljinder Kaur and seconded by Mansa MLA Nazar Singh Manshahiya and Sunam MLA Aman Arora. No other name was proposed in the meeting. Later, Khaira’s name was proposed for chief whip by Phoolka . The names were accepted without any objection and discussion.
Khaira, 51, is two-time MLA from Bholath and had his first stint in the assembly as a Congressman. Considered a firebrand and politically sharp, he knows what it takes to be heard in the assembly.
Addressing a press conference later, Phoolka said the AAP will play the role of a constructive opposition and will ensure that the Congress fulfils the promises it has made in its manifesto. “We will keep a watch on all that the government is doing,” he said. Khaira said the Congress is just the other side of the “Akali coin”. “We will not allow the Congress or the Akalis to go on a vendetta spree against AAP volunteers and workers,” he said.
“During the meeting, party convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi has been asked to start taking feedback from all winning and losing candidates on what they thought were the factors that decided the results,” said Kotkapura MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan.
AAP’s ally Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) leaders Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Singh Bains were also present during the press conference after the meeting.