Former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader, Tourism and Jails minister, Sarwan Singh Phillaur, who resigned from SAD after his four-decade associated with the party and joined Congress speaks to Kanchan Vasdev.
You said that you quit Shiormani Akali Dal (SAD) because you were being sidelined. How?
CM Badal has transferred all power and authority to his son, Sukhbir Badal. Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, being Sukhbir’s brother-in-law, is closest to him. Majithia has attracted all bad elements around him. Veteran Akalis, who sacrificed for the party, are now feeling suffocated. They (Sukhbir and Majithia) are the ones calling the shots. But they have to see. They cannot have candidates on the basis of caste. This will divide the state on caste basis. Punjab’s peace can be at stake. Also, I used to win each time. Badal sahib had posed so much of trust in me that I never went to him seeking a ticket. I would just work in the field and he would nominate me.
Since 1977, I worked in Doaba and strengthened all the neighbouring segments, winning six elections out of seven contested by me. But I was shifted from Phillaur to Kartarpur in 2012. My ticket was announced towards the end, with just 18 days to elections. I still won. Badal sahib, who has always watched out for me had made it clear that he would adjust me in the cabinet. He kept his word and I took oath at number three. This was causing them [Sukhbir and Majithia] enough heartburn. The process of pushing me out of political arena started then only.
Why did they choose you to be sidelined? Why not other veterans also?
Because I was very close to Badal sahib. I was the seniormost and I was a dalit. They did not want a humble man to be given this much importance. Others are also being sidelined. They too feel suffocated. When they get together, they often rue this treatment but nobody says it openly.
After having served Akali Dal for 40 years, do you have any regrets?
I am hurt. Had they asked me to sacrifice for my leader and sit at home, I would have. But they started this discrediting campaign against me. My son, Damanveer Singh was implicated in this Bhola drug case. There is no denying the fact that political leaders face allegations. But the drug lord Jagdish Bhola, who we never knew and never met, levelled this allegation. He levelled allegations against Majithia and Daman both. The Enforcement Directorate conducted a thorough probe. Chargesheet was presented in the court but we were not chargesheeted.
Why did ED summon you?
I was summoned two or three times. My son was summoned six times. They wanted details of my property. Majithia was summoned only once and he was never summoned again. It was a conspiracy against me to discredit me and ruin my political career.
Has the ED closed your case now?
After two years of inquiry no charges were framed against us. About two months ago, we have again received summons. They [ED] has asked for the same documents again. May be they wanted to scare us so that we do not open our mouth.
Why doesn’t Parkash Singh Badal intervene?
He cannot do anything. I have also not approached him now. Badal sahib has a name. He has had a spotless career. He ran governments efficiently. But towards the fag end of his life, all this is now a blot on him. Although he may not agree.
Could you recall how you came close to taking an oath as a minister in 2007 and then things changed overnight?
As I was among the senior-most in the party, I was assured by Badal that I would be made a minister. But at 4 o clock the next early morning I got a call saying, “meri majboori hai, I cannot make you the minister.” The berth was given to Majithia. This was not all. When in 2012, I was appointed as tourism and jails minister, the official residence where Majithia stays, was allotted to me. Adesh Kairon vacated it for me. Majithia came to me and said, “Uncle ji, mainu reh lain deo iss ghar vich (Uncle please let me stay in this house.)” As I was reluctant, Sukhbir intervened and I gave up. Sukhbir should think what his relative is doing to him. He has brought him a bad name. It is either the failure of state intelligence that fails to get the ground report or the reports are blocked and not reaching Sukhbir. Sukhbir does not have a team of his own. He depends on Majithia and the latter runs the party by proxy.
Will Congressmen accept you?
When I was the minister, I was a representative of everybody-be it Akali or a Congressman. I am loved equally. I have never discriminated against anyone.