Former Indian Ambassador to the US and BJP's candidate for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat Taranjit Singh Sandhu addresses the media in Amritsar.
Former Indian Ambassador to the US and BJP's candidate for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat Taranjit Singh Sandhu addresses the media in Amritsar. FILE Photo | AFP
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Will get technical, medical help from abroad to build drug rehab centres in Amritsar: BJP's Taranjit Sandhu

Express News Service

Former Indian Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency. In an interview with TNIE's Harpreet Bajwa, Sandhu emphasized that establishing start-ups could help reduce the brain drain from Punjab, particularly from Amritsar.

The former envoy also highlights the need for a multi-faceted approach to tackling drug problems, including NIA and NCB investigations, using lasers to curb drone smuggling, building rehab centers with international assistance, and creating employment opportunities for youth to prevent them from going back to drugs.

Excerpts...

Why did you decide to jump into the political arena and fight the Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar?

I did not decide per se to jump into the political arena. I was in public service for 36 years, and I believe politics is another means to serve the public. My basic aim is the development of Amritsar. I am focused on Amritsar, and if you go around, you will see the problems that are bothering the city and its people. There is an urgent requirement to focus on developmental issues here.

On what issues will you be fighting these polls, what will be your priorities, and do you have any vision document?

Amritsar is facing severe law and order problems; the drug issue has worsened, and there are cleanliness issues, including sewage and water intermixing, posing a serious health risk. Many areas have polluting drains and garbage dumps, exacerbating the problem.

Low productivity, income, and employment plague both commerce and agriculture sectors, which I aim to address. Regarding law and order, while it falls under state jurisdiction, we will urge the state government to fulfill its responsibilities. If I am elected and if PM Modi's government is re-elected at the Centre, there is a constitutional mechanism to compel the state government to act.

Drugs and unemployment are two big issues in the area. How will you tackle them?

On drugs, there is a need for investigations by the NIA and NCB. Then, for the smuggling part, there is new technology to curb drones smuggling drugs using lasers. The other part is the rehabilitation of drug addicts and for that, we need to build rehab centres here for which I will get technical and medical assistance from abroad.

Most importantly, medicines successful worldwide are crucial, as the ones provided by the state government are tablets sold in black. Children use them and go further into drugs. There are two medicines that are successful in the US: nasal drops and vaccines. The Indian-American community in the US, encouraged by me, has already bought them and is sending them to Amritsar free of cost. This needs to be picked up, and we need to focus on best practices.

Thirdly, we need to create employment opportunities for the youth because their energy needs to be positively tapped. If they do not have alternatives, it is most likely they will go back to drugs. There are two ways to tackle unemployment: short-term and long-term. The short term is very clear. Amritsar holds immense potential, particularly in terms of improving connectivity by increasing flight routes and enhancing cargo facilities. Currently, the cargo facility at Amritsar airport is only utilised at 20 percent capacity. Expanding these facilities is crucial for exporting industrial and agricultural products to countries in the Middle East like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai, which show significant interest in goods from this region. A private company is interested in transporting products from here, as they have a collection centre in Mohali. We manufacture woollens, scafs, phulkari, bras, and handicrafts; so many start-ups can be established and we can market these items.

There is a brain drain from Punjab as youth are going to Canada, the US, Australia and other countries. What is your take on it?

There are two ways to stop brain drain. Bringing investments and start-ups into Amritsar, as I mentioned, is very important. The Indian-American Punjabis have contributed USD 100 million. They have set up the 'Vikshit Amritsar' Initiative, which will provide this assistance to youth and especially women.

We currently receive 1.50 lakh tourists, a number that could be increased to 5 lakh by enhancing connectivity, fostering startup ventures, and facilitating a range of activities such as tourist guiding. Thus, these youths will undergo one-week training, which I will ensure is provided to them. My international connections and affiliations with national chambers will undoubtedly help bring jobs and investments to Amritsar.

With your successful career in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Amritsar parliamentary constituency situated on the Indo-Pak border, will you advocate for the resumption of Indo-Pak trade via the Attari border, which was halted after the Pulwama attack?

I've emphasised the significance of connectivity, particularly in facilitating trade. By ensuring our products reach Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Middle East, it will inherently exert pressure on Pakistan due to their dependence. Transit trade is essential; the resources are available. This includes air cargo, border trade, and the newly constructed 25-km railway link from Patti to Makhu, providing direct access to ports in Gujarat and Mumbai.

Farmers have been opposing the BJP candidates in Punjab and they have also opposed you and shown black flags to you when you visited the villages. How will you make bridges with them and win back their trust?

I am talking about farm issues in Amritsar. I am focused on Amritsar, which has a very unique position. I do not fully agree with you that there was massive opposition. As I have been going to the rural areas, I have a very clear agenda for the farmers. The most important part is to increase their income, whether it is increased by industry or corporate or by the unions.

The MSP is a nationwide issue, but my focus lies on Amritsar. If we go into the history of paddy and wheat, we see it began in the 1960s and 1970s due to its profitability for farmers. Today, I propose that growing vegetables can be equally profitable for them. If we can facilitate their export, their earnings could increase by 15 to 20 times. I am committed to providing this alternative.

You are considered an outsider. What is your take on it?

It is a joke because the other candidates could not find anything else; they threw the outsider tag. Everybody knows my grandfather, Teja Singh Samundari, has strong roots here. There is Samundari Hall in the Golden Temple complex, my father Bishan Singh Samundari established Guru Nank Dev University and I have done 36 years of service for the country.

The talk is that you are a parachute candidate. Before you, Hardeep Puri and Arun Jaitely fought polls from Amritsar but lost, as the public here prefers a local face?

You have to find local roots to connect with local people, as I am from Amritsar. Just because a man has come here after serving for 36 years, you dare call him an outsider. You do not think he has served the country. I have come here every year on holidays, and I am from Amritsar.

If there was an alliance between the BJP and SAD, don’t you think the situation would have been different for the party or for your political prospects?

That is a speculative issue, whether it is good or bad. However, I am focused on the existing situation. My message is very clear development for Amritsar.

Don’t you think that bureaucrats who retire and want to join politics should have a cooling-off period?

If politics is considered a public service, then it should be treated as such. Why should there be a cooling-off period? You don't give a cooling-off period to any other profession. When a doctor, lawyer, or engineer joins public service, there isn't such a requirement.

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