It is Congress in Punjab

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

CAPTAIN Amarinder Singh, former Chief Minister of Punjab, is back in the reckoning. The party high command preferred the list of candidates provided by him over those given by other State party leaders, pulling him out of the sidelines he was relegated to after the partys defeat in the last Assembly elections and his expulsion from the Assembly on corruption charges. In an interview to Frontline, he spoke about the poll issues, the partys agenda, and controversies that dog the State Congress. Excerpts:

How do you plan to take on the SAD (Badal)-BJP ruling combine in this round of elections?

We have been fighting them for so long. At the moment they are passing through a bleak period primarily because of their misgovernance. Misgovernance, strong anti-incumbency sentiment, treatment meted out to Congressmen these are things that we are going to use to counter them. I think that even at the grassrootslevel, people are waiting to get back at the Akalis.

If the Congress wins, what will it do for the State?

Obviously, the election thrust is going to be national. Our manifesto is a forward-looking one. The economy has to be rejuvenated. In the case of Punjab, we are going to take up other issues as well. For instance, water and power supply will be major issues.

How would you address the widespread agricultural and industrial distress?

You cannot survive in this State purely on the basis of the agricultural sector. A modern state can sustain itself only by bringing in industries. I had brought in 399 mega projects. Even if 50 of those projects had come into being, the total commitment to Punjab would have been Rs.1,07,000 crore. Punjabs groundwater level is declining, rivers are drying up. Paddy [cultivation] is being encouraged instead of high-value cash crops. The State government is not serious. It is busy making money by selling sand, buses and liquor.

How do you plan to ensure food security if you stress so much on cash crops?

For paddy, you have many sources coming up Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and the Ganga project. Punjab has led the Green Revolution since 1966. It has been paddy-wheat rotation since then. The end result is degradation of soil quality. Cash crops would mean ensuring green manuring, something people in power are not looking at.

Has the death of Captain Kanwaljit Singh and his sons rebellion against the SAD made the Congresss position favourable?

They [SAD leaders] were treating Kanwaljit badly. In the last zilla parishad elections, Sukhbir Badal put up candidates against him and defeated his candidates in Zirakpur. They were trying to minimise him. Obviously this hurt the family. I think his son is an intelligent and brave young man. He may lose one or two elections but he is establishing himself and I am sure he will do well.

Actually, Kanwaljits passing away is a tragedy as he was a friend; we were in the same regiment. He was one of the upright persons in the Akali party. People from every district are leaving the SAD and joining us. This indicates the widespread feeling of nepotism that has come into the Akali Dal. Out of the 13 Ministers, seven are relatives [of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal]. In Bhatinda, they could think of no one else, so they put up their daughter-in-law. So, everything is concentrated in the Badal family. There are people in the Akali Dal who have been MLA seven times, but they have not been given ministerships. His [Sukhbirs] brother-in-law won for the first time and he was given Cabinet rank.

People are hurt. In our case, Sonia Gandhi has made it absolutely clear that people who have been three-time MLAs must be given Cabinet rank and those who have been elected twice must be made Ministers of State. That is the system that works.

Both your wife and son are contesting on the Congress ticket. Does this not amount to nepotism?

I was not the one who decided the seats. I was not on the parliamentary board, chaired by the Congress president. Perhaps they chose Raninder because he has been serving as the party general secretary in-charge of Bhatinda for eight years. In the last Assembly elections, he was able to secure for the party eight of the nine seats. And as far as Preneet is concerned, she has been MLA or MP twice. Sonia Gandhi must have had a favourable opinion about her because she has made it to Parliament twice. This was entirely her choice.

We hear that you made a list of 13 candidates and got it passed and that is why we see their names.

Thats not the way it happens in the Congress. Certainly I gave my views. They decided to choose the people I recommended. I did it because I felt they were the best Congress candidates. Dr. Jagneet Brar, Manish Tiwari, Santosh Chaudhary are all senior members. The three choices of the Youth Congress are entirely Rahul Gandhis.

Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumars candidatures, the CBIs clean chit to Tytler, and now the Sikh groups agitation seem to have affected the Punjab Congress a bit.

It has not affected us at all. As far as Tytler and Sajjan Kumar are concerned they have been in Parliament for 10 years. Ten years ago nobody raised this issue. Five years ago nobody raised it. It is a mere electoral ploy. There have been so many gruesome incidents in Punjab where hundreds of people were killed after the SAD came to power. All the people who were agitating were with Sukhbir Badal in his house. People have faith in the judiciary and let the law take its own course.

So will it be right to assume that you have assumed supremacy in the State for these elections and you are calling the shots ... that you are the undisputed leader of the Congress party in the State?

No, thats not true at all. I am here purely because the Congress president has given me this task. I am a soldier. Whatever jobs are given to me, I carry them out.

A media survey says that the Congress will win as many as 11 seats. Your number?

Thirteen and I shall tell you why. If you see the groundswell of opinion in Punjab, it is totally pro-Congress. The fact that the Akalis are leaving the party and joining the Congress indicates this.

They are responding to what the ground wants. There might be one or two seats that might need a little more effort. But when we go to the polls, I think it is going to be in our favour.

You say that the misgovernance of the SAD-BJP combine will contribute to their defeat.

The BJP itself is fed up with the SAD. Do you know there have been fights between BJP and Akali MLAs, and BJP and Akali workers? They are also fed up with the system. They are sticking on because of compulsions. When Sukhbir Badal became the Deputy Chief Minister, all the Ministers from here went and complained. But [Prakash Singh] Badal ensured that his son became what he is today. High degree of nepotism.

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