Photographs of late Akali stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra – along with those of former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh – adorn a wall in the house of Sukhdev Singh Libra, the Congress MP who switched over from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Proud of his association with traditional Akalis in his Fatehgarh Sahib parliamentary constituency, Libra says, “Elderly Akalis respect me a lot. I have a reputation of not criticising my rivals unnecessarily.”
Libra served as an Akali MP during United Progressive Alliance-1 (2004-09). In 2008, he “listened to his heart” and voted in favour of the India-US nuclear deal to ensure the survival of the Congress-led UPA regime, defying the SAD’s stand on the no-confidence motion against the union government.
“Even Sukhbir Badal (now the SAD president) and then Lok Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa had initially decided to back the nuclear deal, but they had later backtracked, toeing the BJP line,” he said.
Thankful to the Congress for giving him the party ticket in 2009 from then newly-carved-out Fatehgarh Sahib (reserved) constituency, Libra says, “I am privileged to be a leader of the national party (Congress), unlike being in the SAD, which has a very small horizon and a parochial approach.”
“The Congress is contesting the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections on the plank of development and stability in the country,” the parliamentarian claims.
Being a Congress MP, Libra says he was able to fulfil the long-pending demand of the halt of Shan-e-Punjab train at Khanna town last year.
According to him, his other achievements include the timely completion of development projects in his region, such as three flyovers on the national highway numbero 1 and a railway overbridge at Khanna.
His village, Libra, welcomes visitors with clean streets as villagers eagerly show the way to his residence, guarded by a commando and a national security guard.
“If Parliament is not in session, I am very much here (in my constituency),” Libra claims.
The uplift of women and the Scheduled Caste community are his priorities. Libra says he had been keenly looking forward to the passage of the women’s reservation bill, but it was blocked by Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Libra claims that work in his constituency was impeded by blocking of funds by the ‘vindictive’ Akali-BJP government, whom he accuses of not releasing grants under centrally sponsored schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) or the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
“Parkash Singh Badal (chief minister) and Harsimrat Badal (Bathinda Member of Parliament) dole out crores of rupees without any relevant accounts during the sangat darshan programmes in their region, while we (Congressmen) are deprived of this privilege,” he alleges.
Hopeful of getting the Congress ticket again, Libra says he feels no threat from SAD candidate Kulwant Singh, a real-estate baron. “I have always stood by my people during difficult times, irrespective of their party affiliations. My experience in politics gives me a clear edge over Kulwant,” he says confidently.
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Rao Inderjit Singh, Gurgaon