AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu says autonomy for Punjab unit was sought from Arvind Kejriwal

By 18th March 2018 0 Comments

March 16, 2018
As I write this, it is midnight of March 16 of 2018. The date will remain etched in my mind. It is less than 24 hours since I was shocked to hear my beloved leader, Arvind Kejriwal, issuing an unconditional apology to Bikram Singh Majithia. I couldn’t believe it. I checked, rechecked and then wrote a tweet only to delete it. I started and erased the tweet a few more times before finally letting myself publish these words: it is a let down for the people of Punjab, especially the youth. That we in Punjab were not taken into the loop. Our fight continues.
With that tweet last night and the day-long developments today, I find myself at crossroads yet again at the age of 62. Like countless times before, I have followed my instinct and spoken my mind, unmindful of the consequences. When I was 11 years old, my late Father took me to visit the ancestral village of Bhakna in Amritsar and we were discussing the freedom struggle icon Sardar Sohan Singh Bhakna. He had remarked that choosing to be neutral is siding with the oppressor. I have tried to live by his words ever since.

It has been a momentous journey, since I picked my first job of a sports stringer in December of 1977. I had come to Chandigarh from my native village and birthplace in Sri Ganga Nagar area of Rajasthan. Years went by and with my editors’ encouragement and the almighty’s blessings, I grew up in the profession. 1984 and the aftermath saw most newspapers in a state of confusion. Stunned as I was with the developments, I reported things as I saw them. I followed the rule of law and found myself making waves. During these years I moved to Indian Express, Sunday Observer, and India Today. I reported from the frontlines, interviewed some of the most wanted people in Punjab, went to Pakistan, and was the first Indian journalist to travel to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir where I had to go undercover to see certain places. That is when I was picked up to head the Chandigarh edition of Indian Express at age 38 – one of the youngest editors! Not once did I cave in to political, police or extremist pressure. In fact, the police, politicians and extremist elements did not like my line of reporting. This meant that as a journalist, I was doing my job!
Years went by, publications changed but not once did I cave in to any kind of pressure to stop, edit or report a story. In Hindustan Times, we exposed first the “Intranet” and then the “Ludhiana City Centre” scams. Captain Amarinder Singh, who was the CM then too, had declared on TV, “Kanwar Sandhu has asked for a fight and he shall have it.” Since I was only doing my job, he was made to battle it out with himself!

I did what I was taught in journalism school by my esteemed teachers, which was to report the truth, and nothing but the truth. But, it came as a shocker even for me when Sukhbir Badal, Fastway Cable and entities associated with these people such as PTC and others were able to force my TV news outfit, Day & Night News to shut down. It was a hard fought battle but after years of going up against the then CM and his family, the channel could no longer sustain losses and I stepped down as Managing Editor and Director of the channel in solidarity with my staff. We took the fight to every pillar and post even though my fellow journalists did not stand by me, political entities who claimed to “like” me suddenly turned a deaf ear to me and even the judiciary saw nothing wrong with a CM’s son owning and operating the biggest channels and controlling the cable in a state where he himself was a Deputy Chief Minister! Punjab lost a national quality channel in the region – which was the vision of the promoter and my friend, Jaspal Singh Kandhari and myself.
With nowhere else to go, I decided to continue to fight my way and decided to continue with journalism. I became the Executive Editor of The Tribune. I had the opportunity to oversee the paper through some excellent investigations, including the Conflict of Interest series on the Badals-Kairons and Majithias. Sukhbir Badal’s reaction: “We will “see” Kanwar Sandhu”! What happened in the months to come is no secret, I quit the newspaper after I saw that the Trustees of the paper and the then Editor-in-Chief at the time did not care about reporting the news as much as they cared about promoting themselves. In the following months, I launched a production house, Free Media Initiative (FMI) and reported extensively on the human rights violations in Punjab. While the numbers were known to me, the sheer “chilling” nature of the encounters during the militancy period in Punjab was baffling and I decided to launch an all-out 6 month long investigation. Many of you would remember the Outlook cover and videos detailing those interviews. But here too, the powers that be managed to turn the story around and succeeded in almost having me killed. When all else failed, I looked to the people to fight these powers that continue to trample over us.
Were there political offers before? Yes. Whether they choose to admit it now or not, all parties that exist in Punjab today offered me a place amongst them or a promise of a Rajya Sabha seat! I have been battling bribes and threats since 1993. Was I ever afraid? To answer that, I will like to recall what a retired soldier once told me: In battle never be afraid. When you are afraid, you die! That has kept one going. And if I breathe today, what has helped is calling a spade a spade.
It is because of this that I contested an election from Kharar Constituency, where I live, on a symbol that wasn’t tainted in any way, the Aam Aadmi Party. Perhaps, due to my understanding of the state, the Party entrusted me with preparing their Manifesto in Punjab. I wonder why but Captain Amarinder Singh specially chose me for his boast, “I will ensure Kanwar Sandhu’s defeat”. Perhaps my outspoken videos irked him. I am proud of the work done by all of the volunteers of the constituency and my family and friends, that we were able to win an election against and incumbent of over 30 years and a money bags candidate with sheer hard work and not a single penny, drop of alcohol or drug was given to voters to woo them. In my victory, I believe every ordinary man who sets out from a village to make it big in life, won. The people of Kharar won.
Politics has been a different experience. For the first time, people are blatant about offering a bribe. My refrain is that I am too old in life to change and accept money. I have accumulated influence and goodwill, why do I need money?
When it comes to corruption, drugs, smuggling, mining, mafia and human rights, I will not budge from my previous stands. Yesterday’s apology tendered by Arvind Kejriwal to Bikram Majithia is not one that I endorse, nor was I taken into the loop on it. Even if Arvind Kejriwal’s fight against Majithia and his ilk has ended, mine will continue. Yours should too.
As I said before, if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Kanwar Sandhu
MLA, Kharar, Punjab

Posted in: Punjab

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