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‘I didn’t back Referendum 2020; Badal & Amarinder did anti-national acts in the past’

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Punjab opposition leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira has clarified that he never supported the demand for a separate Khalistan and had no clue about it.

New Delhi: AAP leader from Punjab Sukhpal Singh Khaira, in the eye of the storm for his alleged Khalistan referendum remark, has clarified that he had no knowledge what the ‘Referendum 2020’ was all about.

“Even I don’t know what this referendum is. I only heard about it on television. When they asked me if I supported it, I said that I did not,” said Khaira.

He was in conversation with Editor (investigations & special projects) Maneesh Chhibber at ThePrint’s office in Delhi Wednesday.

“In fact, I have no knowledge of its founders or organisers. All these politicians are using the same tone to attack me. They are baffled to see a tough opposition after all these years,” he added.

Last week, Khaira allegedly justified ‘Referendum 2020’, a campaign led by Sikh hardliners, mostly those living abroad, for “liberating Punjab from India’s occupation”.

he has, however, challenged the accusers to show “one TV interview” where he is shown saying such a thing.

Last Thursday, a week after the anniversary of Operation Blue Star, Khaira reportedly said its organisers were “within their rights” to carry it out.

“My suggestion was very positive. The differences between governments in Delhi and the Sikhs-Punjabis have been increasing. There is a historical background to this discrimination,” Khaira said Wednesday.

He explained that between 1947 and 1984, the Punjabi community had sacrificed for the nation to a great extent. However, they did not receive the justice they deserved, he said.

‘Anti-national’ allegations against Punjab leaders

Khaira took on the present leaders of Punjab who allegedly called him “anti-national” or “Khalistani”.

“Parkash Singh Badal gave an interview to BBC immediately after Operation Blue Star,” said Khaira.

“He instigated Sikh jawans and officers to break barracks and march towards Darbar Sahib. Is that not mutiny?” he asked.

“In 1982, Mr Badal with his delegation in Delhi burnt the copies of the Indian Constitution. Is that not anti-national? Khaira said.

Speaking about Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, Khaira said he (Amarinder) should look into the facts before levelling any allegation against him.

“Amarinder Singh was an Akali in 1994. The Amritsar declaration was read out by Amarinder Singh before the Akal Takht building in Darbar Sahib,” said Khaira.

“This declaration had sought the right to self-determination for the Sikhs,” added Khaira.

“Akali Dal’s alliance with BJP is like a marriage of convenience…the BJP itself is backed by the RSS which demands a Hindu Rashtra. Is that not a separatist ideology?”Khaira said.

On his differences with the AAP in Delhi

Sukhpal, who is the leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly, had come to Delhi to meet Kejriwal in order to mend fences over a series of issues.

However, it was Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia who met him. “We had come to support the dharna that ended yesterday (Tuesday). We also discussed the issue related to Referendum 2020,” he added.

When asked if the party is unhappy with him, Khaira said, “No, they have faith in me. That’s why they’ve appointed me as the leader of opposition in Punjab.”

“All the rumors of my fall are created by the machinery of Akali Dal, Congress and BJP,” Khaira said.

When asked about Kejriwal’s apology to former Punjab minister Bikram Majithia, Khaira said that that he and his supporters were not taken into consideration before taking such a step.

“Our volunteers are from humble backgrounds. They had placed big banners and posters saying ‘Bikram Majithia is a drug smuggler, we will say it a thousand times’,” said Khaira.

“It was my moral responsibility to show them a little support”, he added.

Major issues ahead of 2019

Khaira said that there will be four major issues in Punjab, which will be highlighted in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

1. Farmers’ suicides: Khaira said that farmers had been dying during SAD’s tenure. This trend continued even during Amarinder Singh’s regime. “Around 450 farmers have committed suicide since Amarinder Singh came to power,” Khaira claimed.

2. Corruption: Khaira said the level of corruption had not gone down in Amarinder’s tenure either. “Even today 50-60 per cent of what is spent on development is wiped off in corruption. The infrastructure is still outdated; the condition of schools and healthcare has deteriorated,” he said.

3. Mafia raj: “From sand and land mafia to liquor and transport mafia, the Congress party complained about criminal activities in all spheres while in opposition, but they are yet to provide any solution to these problems,” said the AAP leader.

4. Unemployment: Khaira said that unemployment has forced Punjabi youth move abroad in search of job opportunities. “Around 50 lakh out of 2.75 crore people in Punjab have left the state. Removing unemployment is a gigantic task. If this continues to happen I don’t know who will stay back in Punjab,” he wondered.

The conversation went live on ThePrint’s Facebook page. You can watch the video here.

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