Ahead of the December 30 panchyat elections in the state, Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema speaks about the distribution of intoxicants to lure voters and that misuse of government machinery to keep opposition candidates out of the fray.
Why do you say that the panchayat polls have been vitiated by misuse of government machinery?
Please tell me one thing. Is the issue of ‘chulha tax’ (stove tax) to be raised only for the purpose of filing nominations by opposition candidates in the panchayat polls? This issue suddenly comes up during the panchayat polls and very conveniently the nomination papers of those who have not paid it are rejected. Neither before the polls nor after the polls does any government official even think about collecting this tax. Show me who pays this tax in Punjab.
Secondly, there has been widespread bungling done in the demarcation of wards to suit Congress candidates. There have also been instances where a no objection certificate was not issued to a prospective candidate in time in order to prevent participation and also where frivolous complaints were made against him or her which were accepted by returning officers without due diligence. Most false complaints were made with regard to land grabbing and majority of these are false.
You have complained about widespread distribution of liquor and drugs in these polls. Can you elaborate?
Liquor and drugs are playing a big role in these panchayat polls. Only yesterday, I received a complaint by a person that dozens of cases of liquor are being supplied in his village on a daily basis. And all this liquor which is flowing in has the marking of Haryana. Truck loads of liquor is being brought into the state for distribution every day, but the state administration is turning a blind eye to this. Opium and poppy husk are also being distributed on a large scale. Congress is in power and managing everything while Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) may be out of power, but it still retains its links in power and is indulging in similar acts. The old nexus of the party still exists and has not yet been broken. Cash is also being distributed.
Surely the voters are also seeing all this and will apply their mind while voting?
The Panchayati Raj institutions are being irreparably harmed by all this. There are so many video clips and audio recordings doing the rounds in which Congress leaders are going around making offers to opposition candidates to withdraw by giving them allurements. To some they say we will make you market committee chairman, to another they say we will get you control over a gurdwara. Cabinet ministers are campaigning in villages so what do you expect. This is a very dangerous trend. What SAD did for ten years the same is being repeated by the Congress.
What do you have to say about the role of the State Election Commission (SEC) in these polls?
To me it seems that the State Election Commissioner has donned the robes of Congress. The head of the commission seems to be looking for some gains from the government after his tenure is over. There is a need to institute reforms in the SEC and the appointment of the Commissioner should be made with full transparency and a panel should be formed to select him in which all political parties should have representation so that his plays a fair role.
How will the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fare in these elections given the drubbing it has got in all previous polls since 2017?
There has been big improvement in the performance of our candidates and you will see this in coming days. Our candidates have made it clear that they will not distribute any kind of allurement and will not even offer tea. One of our candidates, Narinder Kaur, who is a young girl, in Sangrur is fighting against a NRI candidate who is spending lakhs on his campaign. Even Vijay Inder Singla, a Cabinet minister, came to canvass for the candidate yet our candidate is giving a tough fight. This is just representative of what kind of people are fighting from our party.
Arvind Kejriwal will finally be coming to Punjab in the coming weeks. Do you think he will get the same response as in lead up to the Assembly polls?
Momentum is building up leading up to Arvind Kejriwal’s visit. We meet people everyday and they are disillusioned with the promises made by the Congress. Look at the Ghar Ghar Rozgar Scheme. Placements which were earlier made by private colleges are now being passed of as success stories. The loan waiver promise has also come a cropper. Illegal mining and transport mafia are also continuing as in the past. The Akalis have lost their panthic face due to their own mistakes. So if there is any party from which people have hope then it is AAP.