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Nyay versus Namo just hashtags, fight here is on burning state issues, says Sukhpal

Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) president Sukhpal Singh Khaira is in a make-or-break fight. The two-time Bholath MLA, who quit AAP in January this year to set up his separate outfit, is leading a six-party alliance he stitched together.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 23, 2019 14:56 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Sukhpal Singh Khaira(HT File)

Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) president Sukhpal Singh Khaira is in a make-or-break fight. The two-time Bholath MLA, who quit AAP in January this year to set up his separate outfit, is leading a six-party alliance he stitched together. Though hampered by lack of an organisational set-up and limited appeal, Khaira’s aim is to make his presence felt by being more than just another vote-splitter in Bathinda, from where he is in the fray, and elsewhere. HT spoke to the firebrand leader about the fight at hand and challenges ahead. Edited excerpts:

How does it feel leading the fight?

We are getting a fairly good response. The best response is in Khadoor Sahib where our candidate (Paramjit Kaur Khalra) is getting support from Sikh jathebandis, sant samaj, human rights organisations, farmer unions and taksalis. Similarly, Simarjit Bains and Manwinder Giaspura are also doing well. We have given candidates who contributed to society. I have covered 200 of the 600 villages in Bathinda and found that people are fed up with the two main parties (Congress and SAD). There is a strong undercurrent against them like 2014 which may give us a chance to win a few seats. We are in a good fight.

You neither have a strong organisational set-up nor do you figure in the ‘Namo versus Nyay’ poll narrative. Why should people vote for the alliance?

The burning issues of Punjab are more important for people here. They are more concerned about drugs, farm suicides, unemployment and debt than Namo and Nyay. People want to know who will save them from all these problems. They have no faith in Namo or Nyay that are just hash tags and a part of political gimmickry.

Do you feel Bargari sacrilege and police firing issues in Behbal Kalan will resonate with voters?

It is an important burning issue. The way the Akalis have got the SIT member changed shows it is a politically-motivated move. The sentiments of people are hurt as they know the Akali leadership, the Badal family, is responsible. They will face the heat.

By fielding candidates like Khalra, you have made a strong Panthic pitch. Is it working?

I have not fielded candidates with Panthic angle in mind, but, yes, people who were victimised and wronged have been given the ticket. I did not field Bibi Khalra from Khadoor Sahib to play Panthic politics. When I took up the fight on the Behbal Kalan firing issue, the same thing was said. But, my fight was against injustice.

Why do you think Sikh hardliners like Mokham Singh are backing her then?

I think they are all sympathetic to her cause. Her husband got eliminated and was a victim of unconstitutional working of the Punjab Police. Their sympathies are with her. They are not seeking anything in return.

Taksalis and AAP want her to contest as an independent candidate.

I want to request (Taksali leader Ranjit Singh) Brahmpura not to fall for cheap machinations of AAP. We do not want support from AAP because they first surrendered before (Akali leader) Bikram Singh Majithia on drugs issue and now they are beseeching the Congress for an alliance. I want to ask Brahmpura that if we include AAP in the alliance and they form a coalition with the Congress in Delhi, won’t he feel ashamed. She is very much a PDA candidate. Any decision on her candidature will be taken by all alliance members.

There is a feeling that you are aiming to outdo AAP and become the third alternative.

Our aim is to outdo even Akalis. We want to be in the political centre stage to become the alternative in 2022.

How do you think AAP’s desperate attempts to forge an alliance with Congress in Delhi will play out here?

If they tie-up with Congress in Delhi, whatever little remains of them here will also erode. They are finished in Punjab even now except for Sangrur where (sitting MP) Bhagwant Mann has a little appeal due to his comedy acts.

What about allegations that you tried to destroy the AAP because of your personal ambitions?

Actually, they are responsible. I am not the only one who left the party. Beginning with people like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav who built the party, I can give the names of dozens of leaders who left it. Either people have deserted them or just been thrown out. (AAP convener Arvind) Kejriwal is the sole person responsible for breaking the party. I did not plan anything. One thing happened after the other.

Dera premis are saying they are being approached by political parties. What’s your stand?

Honestly speaking, we are not approaching any dera at all. I respect all religious sects, but strongly feel they should not be dragged into electoral politics.

What is the truth about talk that you are getting huge amount of funds from NRIs?

NRIs shifted from AAP to our party lock stock and barrel and some are here to support us, but most of them are supporting by calling up their friends and relatives. As for funds, whatever support they are giving is through proper channel. Any govt or agency is welcome to inquire into allegations being levelled in this regard. We are not getting anything in an illegal manner.

First Published: Apr 23, 2019 09:50 IST

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