Once a lowly muneem (accountant) at a brick kiln and now a multi-millionaire parliamentarian firmly in the saddle, vying for a second term in the Lok Sabha, it has been a meteoric rise for Ferozepur MP Sher Singh Ghubaya.
Ghubaya, 52, was a reluctant politician when he entered the electoral arena in 1997 and successfully contested his first major political battle from Jalalabad assembly segment after being handpicked by his political guru, three-time MP Zora Singh Mann. Destiny propelled Ghubaya onto the turf that nobody from his backward Rai Sikh community ever dared to dream.
Now, the first-time MP and two-time legislator shrewdly maintains a low profile to remain in sync with his own and that of his community’s humble background in this parliamentary seat bordering Pakistan.
What even rivals within and outside the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) admire about their MP is his accessibility. As his success in electoral politics is largely attributed to the formidable presence of Rai Sikhs (around 2.5 lakh) across the border belt of Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat, Ghubaya has been drawing flak for being "pro-Rai Sikh" and ignoring the interests of other castes and communities. He says, "After I entered politics, I ensured that people of my community were not subjected to humiliation." Earlier, their community, he argues, used to be ill-treated. "So, what’s wrong if I restored the pride of Rai Sikhs, while also taking utmost care of the interests of other castes and communities?" he asks.
It was this community card, coupled with the backing of SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, that Ghubaya, then sitting MLA from Jalalabad, humbled the mighty Jagmeet Singh Brar of the Congress by 21,071 votes in the 2009 general elections. He had resigned from the assembly to make way for Sukhbir to contest from Jalalabad. Sukhbir’s victory by 80,000 votes added another feather to, what Ghubaya says, his “political yatra”.
Rags to riches
The decade-and-a-half-long “political yatra” that brought Ghubaya riches is a hot topic of discussion in corner meetings at Ghubaya village, having about 3,500 voters. From the animated discussions, what comes to the fore is that the MP doesn’t enjoy a good reputation, at least in his village. This is despite the fact that he lives in a modest house in one corner of the village.
Behind villagers’ anger are dirty drains, potholed streets and alleged corruption in spending development funds — a poor reflection on his performance as an MP. “Aapni halat hi sudhari Sher Singh ne,” says Harnam Chand, a villager.
“Two decades ago, our MP was a lowly accountant and had less than 10 acres. Now, he runs an engineering college in the hinterland of Jalalabad, where he has over 50-acre farm, a multi-storeyed house in Jalalabad town, etc.,” says Aman, who runs a shop at the entry point of the village.
But the MP dismisses such accusations of amassing wealth and property as mischievous. “I have acquired wealth and land by hard work. Main koi thaggi nayee kitti (I have not indulged in illegal practices to become wealthy),” Ghubaya counters. “Uss vakt de Sher Singh aur aaj de Sher Singh vich koi farak nahin hai (I am the same man what I used to be decades ago).”
However, Paramjeet Singh, a college-going villager, says, “Had our MP been a good man, the condition of village drains and roads would have been good.”
“Nazdeek rehan wale kadi changa nahin bolde (Those who live nearby have nothing good to say about you). I don’t expect good words from my villagers. Yes, the road inside the village needs improvement,” says the MP.
Since 1998, Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat has been the SAD’s citadel, nursed by Zora Singh Mann during his three terms.
Within the constituency, Ghubaya banks largely on his political masters for development, while inside the Lok Sabha, he has tried to raise issues concerning his voters.
He claims credit for vociferously raising the issue of relief for flood-affected farmers and having started new trains such as Fazilka-Abohar and Fazilka-New Delhi. To cater to the need for drinking water of residents, especially in border villages, he came up with an innovative idea of sanctioning water tankers to 400 panchayats. “Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh visited border areas of Punjab and sanctioned `748 crore for various works after I raised the matter in Parliament,” he says, counting his achievements and dismissing allegations of being ineffective.
Part 9 of 34:
Farooq Abdullah, Srinagar