The resignation of senior advocate and human rights activist Harvinder Singh Phoolka from Punjab Assembly necessitated the bypoll in rural Ludhiana’s Dakha constituency. Phoolka, who is also fighting cases for 1984 anti-Sikh riots, was among 20 AAP MLAs elected in 2017 Assembly polls. He first resigned as the Leader of Opposition, then as MLA and finally from AAP. In an interview, he tells The Indian Express about his resignations, relationship with AAP now and why he feels he did not ditch his voters. Excerpts:
People of Dakha voted for you overwhelmingly, both in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 Assembly polls. They elected you MLA in 2017. The larger sentiment is that you ditched them. Your take.
I have not ditched my voters and people of Dakha. My resignation as an MLA was for a larger cause, to protest against inaction of Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in sacrilege cases. I first resigned as Leader of Opposition as the Bar Council was not allowing me to fight the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case pertaining to (former Congress leader) Sajjan Kumar. Then on August 28, 2018, the Congress government created a drama in Vidhan Sabha and refused to take any action on the enquiry report of Justice (retd) Ranjit Singh in sacrilege cases. It was then that I announced that I will resign as MLA to protest against this injustice as not only me but people of Punjab were hurt. Finally, when Sajjan Kumar was convicted in December last year in a landmark judgment, I resigned from the AAP and politics because in no way I wanted that this landmark victory for 1984 riots victims should be used for political gains by any party, not even AAP.
But people are asking how your resignation alone is going to get justice in sacrilege cases? They are feeling cheated.
Cheating with people of Dakha would have been had I continued to enjoy perks and other benefits of my MLA post and put sacrilege cases on the back-burner. In fact, I sacrificed my MLA post for a larger cause. I also feel that people voted for me because of my social work and work I did for 1984 riots’ victims. My resignation is not cheating because despite resigning as MLA, I am continuing with my social work as before. I am also working for people of Dakha. They will soon get a new elected representative but I will continue to work for them at my own level. In a democracy, resignation is the most effective tool of protest especially when the Congress government has been shielding sacrilege accused. In a way, I resigned to take my social works including fight for 1984 victims forward.
But you always spoke against wastage of public money. So now a bypoll being held due to your resignation is not unwanted public money expenditure?
Sometimes for a larger and bigger cause, such steps have to be taken. I never advocate wastage of public money but the fact is that I had resigned way back in December immediately after Sajjan Kumar’s conviction so that bypoll can be held along with Lok Sabha polls 2019. However, it was Punjab Assembly Speaker who kept delaying and did not accept my resignation.
You said you will continue to work for people of Dakha despite not being their MLA. How?
In two-and-a-half years, I have made Dakha the only constituency where all 118 government primary schools are having smart classrooms. Soon, we will try covering high schools too. This was done after I arranged funds using my personal connections. Then, a mobile dispensary with a well-qualified team of doctors is touring villages and it will continue to do so. It provides all medical facilities to them including medicines. It also checks how health profile of villagers getting this facility at their doorstep has improved in two-and-a-half years. For this project, I have spent close to Rs 1 crore of which Rs 40 lakh was from my own pocket. I had announced this in advance that I am not becoming an MLA to please people or attend their bhog and marriage ceremonies. Health and education are my target areas and will continue to be so.
Are you supporting any party or candidate now for Dakha bypoll? Are you in touch with AAP?
No, I am not asking my supporters to vote for any particular party or candidate. I am not supporting AAP and I am not in touch with my former party in anyway. Neither the AAP candidate nor the state president Bhagwant Mann have contacted me. I too haven’t contacted them. (AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister) Arvind Kejriwal is my friend on personal level but I am not supporting or vouching for any party or candidate for Dakha bypoll. I am out of politics.