Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal’s bid to discredit Supreme Court lawyer Harvinder Singh Phoolka – fielded by Aam Aadmi Party as its candidate for the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat – by alleging that Phoolka had charged hefty fee for the legal battle for the 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims, has misfired, putting the deputy chief minister and his party in a tight spot.
That Sukhbir’s startling allegation was not based on facts became crystal clear on Wednesday when the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), helmed by SAD, informed him that there was nothing on its records to prove that Phoolka was paid for fighting the legal battle on the Delhi carnage cases.
Top SAD sources say the DSGMC was especially tasked by Sukhbir’s aides to dig up proofs of payments to Phoolka. However, on Thursday, the DSGMC informed Sukhbir that there was no evidence to prove that Phoolka was “paid even a penny for his legal battle on behalf of the riot victims”. Even the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), also under the SAD control, has failed so far to find any record of payments to Phoolka for the Delhi riot cases.
On Tuesday, Phoolka, while stoutly denying Sukhbir’s charge at a specially convened press conference at Ludhiana, had challenged him to either prove the allegation or step down from his positions as SAD chief and deputy chief minister. A visibly hurt Phoolka had declared that he would quit both legal profession and politics if Sukhbir could prove his allegation. The apex court lawyer said he had been fighting the 1984 riot cases without charging any fee from victims – a gesture that had earned him appreciation of the Sikh community as well as Sikh clergy.
Sukhbir’s rant against AAP nominee was clearly aimed at chipping away Phoolka’s credentials as a gritty legal fighter of the anti-Sikh riot cases for the last two decades. On Wednesday, however, Sukhbir appeared to be on the backfoot and evaded a direct reply to Phoolka’s challenge. “My stature is much taller than that of Phoolka’s and his statements do not carry any weight for me as he is doing all this to remain in the news. Moreover, my party workers are replying to his statements, he said during his visit to Jagraon to review the arrangements for the February 23 rally to be addressed by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Top party sources say Sukhbir’s aides were banking heavily on the DSGMC official records to bail out the deputy CM. In fact, on SAD leaders’ directions, the DSGMC authorities had worked overtime scanning the religious body’s accounts to lend weight to Sukhbir’s allegations against Phoolka. However, DSGMC officials reverted to convey that the payments, if any made to Phoolka, pertained to legal cases other than the anti-Sikh riot cases.
The revelations by both the DSGMC and SGPC have apparently left the ruling Akali Dal red-faced in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.