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Posted at: Aug 1, 2016, 1:38 AM; last updated: Aug 1, 2016, 1:38 AM (IST)SUNDAY INTERVIEW

We will work to seek solution to drug mess: Sajjan Singh Cheema

We will work to seek solution to drug mess: Sajjan Singh Cheema
Sajjan Singh Cheema

He is singularly responsible for having revived sports in many villages and tutoring, funding and shaping countless youths as sportspersons in the state.

Often during party visits abroad and walking down the street he bumps into men and women who say he had made them what they were today. His wards include the Great Khali, basketball sensation Pal Preet Singh and many officials in the police services of the state.

One of the glorious basketball players of the country, an Arjuna awardee and a respected former cop, having served as SSP (Vigilance) and head of the anti-riot police in the state, Sajjan Singh Cheema sprung a surprise earlier this year when he declared he was going to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Now the head of the Sports Wing of the party in the state and the head of the NRI wing of the party in Australia, in an interview with The Tribune correspondent Aparna Banerji, Cheema declared his intentions to do in the AAP what he couldn’t do during the police service. Excerpts from the interview:

Was the decision to quit the police job well thought-out or impulsive?

For the past five years while working with the Punjab Police, I constantly had the feeling that my expertise was not being rewarded and used. I was sidelined. During my posting at the PAP HQs in Jalandhar in 2011, although I was hopeful for the position of Secretary, Sports, another official was handed the post. I was made the head of the anti-riot police. I have seen international sports players deputed on duty at chowks, while non-sports persons are handed over positions as Secretary Sports. Even the persons who eventually got the post used to seek advice from me on sports affairs. So in the midst of these disillusionments, I got calls from some AAP persons who wanted me to have a role in the party.

Did you always dream of being a politician?

In fact I never intended or wanted to join politics. I used to hate politics. I have always worked for sports and, possibly, if in the Punjab Police, my experience was aptly used, the idea wouldn’t have occurred to me. But the AAP seemed to welcome me. I had also been inspired by Kejriwal ever since the Anna Andolan. But until recently, I had never thought of joining it. The thought that finally triggered the decision was that I was finally getting a platform which was keen to exploit my sporting experience so that youth at large in the state would benefit from it. This spurred me on the make the shift.

You were going to change sides from being with the establishment to a party which is seen as anti-Punjab Government. Didn’t the thought make you apprehensive?

I have been known to be fearless. I have always known I am bound to be targeted for my proximity with certain people. And I would not be surprised if tomorrow I get threats and my name is dragged into false cases and issues. Somewhere we, in the AAP, already see it happening. I keep on hearing from here and there that I might be targeted in future. But then again – I am not a man to be slowed down by such things.

You have been in charge of the anti-riot police and have served in sports all your life.

Punjab must be the first state where even the IGs who haven’t towed the government line have been suspended. IGs and SSPs, have been at the receiving end of the government diktats. I have friends in the police who tell me there are things they don’t want to do but are forced to do. There is this scenario of political interference and no matter what you do, you can’t escape it. The state of the law and order situation in the state is a direct result of this interference and the denigration of police officials. Otherwise, I believe in Punjab there are many good police officials.

You recently went to Amritsar during the defamation case hearing against Arvind Kejriwal. So do you perceive good support for the party?

Yes, I did and people are really with the AAP on the issue. I would also like to say that it’s not us who have done ‘maan mani’ (defamation) against Bikram Singh Majithia, but he has done ‘maan hani’ against us. Even if there has been any hani (loss) to him, it might be ‘maal’ hani (financial loss) but not maan nahi (defamation). Punjabis have always been respected wherever they went. Earlier, Punjabis were perceived as a great community, we were asked about our soldiers and prosperity. But today drugs have become our identity. It has become synonymous with Punjab.

Drugs and sports are interlinked. A revival of sports can massively counter drugs, what are the party’s plans to revive sports in the state?

During my time as a government servant, I understood that the Punjab Government was not understood in people seeking solutions for sports. Otherwise, people like me wouldn’t have been sidelined. As far as drugs are concerned, I have lost my own to nephews to the menace. So finally with the AAP I shall be in a position to work to seek a solution to this mess. I and my colleagues Kartar Singh Pehelwan, Rajbir Kaur and Jagdeep Gill also often discuss the issue. The state has no policy for sports. The AAP would ensure at least two games for every school. DPEs and PTs at schools would be filled. Wherever possible, village grounds would be converted into stadiums and playgrounds as I have also done before. I have at least set 25 to 30 grounds and stadiums at places where there were no games. Each of the three zones in Punjab will get a sports college. And scholarships shall also be distributed to students. Talent hunts for sportspersons shall be held and sports university shall also be constituted where those playing for national teams shall study.

Do you think the buzz around the coming of Navjot Sidhu and Pargat Singh to the AAP is a boost to the Aam Admi party in the state?

If they come, it’s going to profit the AAP hugely. They have a great image and Navjot Sidhu is also very vocal regarding taking on the Badal regime. While we already are a congregation of Arjuna awardees and deliberate very seriously on sports matters, the arrival of two more respected sportspersons shall also further finetune the AAP’s resolution to revive the sports scenario in the state.


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