From Bar politics to leader of oppn in Punjab assembly, AAP’s Cheema emerges as Dalit leader
The new leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly picked by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Harpal Singh Cheema, 43, is considered a loyalist of AAP’s heavyweight MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, and represents one of the most developmentally backward constituencies, Dirba, reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Castes.
The Dalit lawyer, who had joined the AAP just before last year’s assembly elections, had led the Sangrur district bar association in 2014. He also unsuccessfully contested the zila parishad elections as an independent earlier.
A graduate from Government Ranbir College, Sangrur, and having done his LLB from Punjabi University, Patiala, he was also a participant in student politics as a member of some Left-leaning student outfits while studying law. Born and brought up in an economically weak family of Cheema village in Dhuri subdivision, he had to struggle for studies as he has five siblings, two brothers and three sisters. Now he lives in Sangrur with his wife and a three-year-old daughter.
In a triangular fight from Dirba, he defeated Congress candidate Ajaib Singh Rataul and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Gulzar Singh. As a lawyer, he is also fighting AAP’s Delhi MLA Naresh Yadav’s case in the district courts over accusations of Quran desecration in Malerkotla in 2016.
He has stayed away from controversies while being in a party beset with infighting, and bears a clean, low-key image in the AAP. As replacement to a dominant Jat Sikh leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira as AAP’s choice for leader of opposition, Cheema has achieved a new high in his political career. However, as the third leader of opposition in a little over a year, he has a lot to balance within and outside the AAP.
In a congratulatory message on Twitter, Delhi deputy CM and AAP’s Punjab affairs in-charge manish Sisodia, too, stressed on Cheema’s humble origins: “I am sure he’ll emerge as a strong Dalit leader and become a voice of all Dalit and marginalised communities of Punjab, in assembly and outside as well.”
Cheema replied on Twitter by thanking party boss and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, besides Sisodia and Bhagwant Mann, and all AAP Punjab MLAs, for their “trust and faith in common man like me”.
Reaction from the ground showed that the road may be far from smooth.
AS Mann, a former AAP member from Sangrur, said, “By removing Khaira (as opposition leader), AAP has committed a blunder the second time; the first one was removal of Sucha Singh Chhotepur (from party) before the elections.”
However, Paramjit Kaur Mann, a prominent woman leader of AAP in Dirba, said, “Khaira was an experienced man and was performing his duty with full responsibility. Cheema will have to learn many things, but we have no doubt in his capability.”
“Cheema was picked by AAP MLAs,” stressed Dinesh Bansal, who contested on the AAP ticket from Sangrur assembly segment, “He is hardworking, and will perform his duty effectively.”
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