As Delhi gears up for assembly polls, Upasna Pandey speaks to Aam Aadmi Party leader HS Phoolka about the Modi factor, the issues on which the Sikh electorate and why the AAP is likely to return to power.
The Narendra Modi government, if it is truly serious about the plight of the Sikh victims of the 1984 riots, should go ahead and make a fresh announcement on giving ex-gratia relief to their kin, says HS Phoolka, Aam Aadmi Party leader from Punjab who has led the legal case on this issue for many years.
He argues that the Election Commission’s objection to the announcement by the Centre on ex-gratia payment for the families in October-end were on grounds of violation of the Model Code of Conduct. “But that clause is not applicable anymore; why then the delay by the Centre on this now?” asks Phoolka.
In an interview with Upasna Pandey, Phoolka said the Centre stands completely exposed on the issue. He adds that even if the Bharatiya Janata Party government were to disburse the relief funds announced for the victims’ families, it may fail to pull the votes away from the AAP.
The central government had announced relief for the families of the 1984 riot victims. The Election Commission pulled up the Centre for violating the model code of conduct in Delhi and the government complied by taking back the relief. Your comments?
While the announcement came on the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, we should not forget that it also coincides with the killing of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi. It is quite unfortunate the way the events turned out. However, the Model Code of Conduct is not in force in Delhi any longer. So the government should not waste any time in disbursing the overdue relief funds.
How do you see the argument that the Delhi riots in 1984 were sparked off due to the negativity which was built up around the situation in Punjab at the time?
This is a baseless argument because the riots in Delhi were organised and planned in areas where the Congress had a stronghold, and were supported by the police. So there is no question of these being a result of people’s anger or reaction to the Punjab situation then.
What’s the mood of the Sikh community in Delhi like in face of the upcoming elections?
In the last assembly elections, the Sikhs voted for the AAP because it was the only genuinely secular party, unlike the Congress which had completely lost its credibility. The BJP was given enough time and support by Sikhs who voted for the party for over 15 years only to see an absence of any genuine interest and action from the party.
Sikhs also voted for the Congress in between but when AAP came into the scene as an alternative, offering both a secular platform and the promise to work for the public, the community decided to vote for AAP. The scene is the same in Punjab as well. Sikhs have voted for AAP over the Akalis, who are also self-serving and not really working for the causes of the community.
What are the issues for Sikhs in Delhi and do you see their vote shifting to the BJP in case the relief funds for the 1984 riot victims are disbursed before the elections?
I don’t think the relief issue will make much of a difference. Sikhs are quite in sync with the mainstream and while community based issues are important they may not sway much change.
Sikhs are expected to vote for a leader who will work for the public as well as address some pending concerns of the community. Residents of Delhi have seen good governance during the 49-day AAP government and have also seen the five-and-a-half month old BJP led government at the Centre.
The government has also failed to address issues of the public such as law and order, corruption and price hike. People in Delhi have experienced a corruption-free administration and the positive impact of the AAP on the lives of the common man in the tenure of the Kejriwal government.
The Delhi BJP is promoting the Modi factor. Do you think it will work as it did in the Maharashtra and Haryana elections recently?
I think the Modi factor is hot air in Delhi. Although he has been focusing on improving relations with many foreign countries, there is no focus on the real issues of governance and corruption which concern the residents of Delhi.
The government is busy with publicity gimmicks like the Swachh Bharat campaign, which has been touted as a grand campaign by the media. AAP, on the other hand, has been raising the issue of a corruption-free India for a long time.
What are you working on right now and if the AAP wins in Delhi would you be moving to Delhi?
At present, I am focusing on the setting up of the Special Investigation Team on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. I don’t see myself shifting to Delhi as I entered politics because of the deplorable condition in Punjab and want to continue my work there. I am confident that the AAP will win in the Delhi elections once again and will work for the Sikh community. The Sikhs are not looking for favouritism; they simply don’t want to be discriminated against.