Sukhpal Singh Khaira, president of Punjab Ekta Party (PEP), one of the alliance partners of Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA), is contesting from Bathinda Lok Sabha seat. He was elected as an AAP MLA from Bholath in 2017 after defeating SAD’s Bibi Jagir Kaur. He was also appointed the leader of opposition (LoP) by AAP, but was removed unceremoniously from this post in July last year after which he floated PEP. He resigned from AAP in January this year and as MLA Bholath in April, before filing his nomination papers. His resignation is yet to be accepted by the Vidhan Sabha Speaker. Besides PEP, the PDA has Lok Insaaf Party (LIP), BSP, CPI, Punjab Manch and Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI). In an interview with The Indian Express, Khaira says that the alliance will open its account in its very first election.
How do you see your removal as LoP of AAP ?
After removal as AAP LoP, AAP supporters and a few MLAs came to my side. Hence things moved as per the demand of the public and we came out as a third front. Later on, we formed alliances with five other parties and formed the PDA. I call it the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ as we are an alliance of 6 parties and our future depends on the performance in Lok Sabha.
How hopeful are you this election?
It is the maiden election for PDA and PEP. We are getting huge support in Khadoor Sahib for our candidate Bibi Paramjeet Kaur Khalra in Ludhiana, from where LIP candidate Simarjeet Bains is contesting. As is the case with Bathinda, where I am contesting. We are going strong in Faridkot and Patiala as well and so is the BSP candidate in Anandpur Sahib. Hence we are hopeful of opening our account in our maiden attempt itself. Ours is an alliance with two national parties (BSP and CPI) and hence we feel that prospects of PDA are bright. After Lok Sabha, we will plan our journey ahead for 2022 Vidhan Sabha polls.
PDA candidates campaign more about AAP and less about other rival parties.
We campaign about all parties. However, we do explain why we had to form a separate group. Most of the AAP workers are already with us. AAP has been written off from Punjab. People have rejected them outrightly and their fate will be before all on May 23. Except for Sangrur seat, they are not able to appeal to masses. In Sangrur, their candidate Bhagwant Mann is able to gather crowds because of his comedy skills and celebrity status.
You often say in your speeches that SAD and Congress are hand in glove with each other. Why?
Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh is very soft with Badals. Business of Sukhbir’s buses increased during Congress’s tenure. What is the reason that Amarinder is getting AAP MLAs to join his party? He does not need to seek any majority. However after Lok Sabha polls, he is keen to give them (SAD) the oppostion party status. There is no concrete action on Badals in Bargari issue or drug issue. Hence, it is evident that they have colluded with each other.
Bathinda is a hot seat. How are you looking at your prospects?
I am getting very good response. I have covered almost all 600 villages in the constituency. My wife and son are also campaigning for me. I am campaigning on ground level issues including unsafe drinking water, lack of proper education, infrastructure collapse in government hospitals and schools, cancer treatment etc. Major parties have failed to address these issues for decades. Above all, the problem of unemployment. Reasons need to be found as to why Punjab’s youth is migrating to foreign lands.
It is a tough competition and you have also resigned as MLA Bholath. Do you sometimes regret your decisions?
I never regret for my decisions. I have taken risks. I am not into crafty politics. Yes, I have resigned as MLA, but I never look back. I always move ahead and I am sure that it will come out as new openings for our party/ alliance.
Some AAP MLAs who used to support you earlier are nowhere in the scene now. Two of them have even joined Congress.
Nazar Singh Manshahia and Amarjeet Singh Sandoa joining Congress has not benefited the party at all. Rather protests are happening against the caniddates in their areas. People are questioning them on social media. Except for two MLAs, Congress has not gained anything out of it. No vote bank has gone with them. Yes, I am hurt with Nazar joining Congress, but people are giving us support. Now we are being looked as the third front and not AAP .
Candidates are facing protests/questions. It is being said that some of your supporters are going in rallies of rivals.
People need change, and they have every right to ask question the candidates. Asking questions is an organic fight and I welcome the same. The masses are asking questions from rivals, it is wrong to drag just my name into it. People are angry with these so-called old parties and hence they have a list of questions for all of them.
Why should people vote for PDA?
We are the third front people are looking for. They often talk about non-performance by the parties. They had looked upon AAP earlier, but that party failed to live up to the expectations of the masses. Hence I feel that we are the change, people are watching.