CHANDIGARH: Leading from the front, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh shares his plans for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in an interview with Harpreet Bajwa.
On what issues will the Congress fight the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Punjab?
There is one big plank on which we are fighting the elections in Punjab, just as the Congress will fight in the rest of the country. The total failure of the BJP government on all counts. Be it jobs, farmer debts and suicides, attempts to create communal rift, prices of essential commodities, it all boils down to the Modi government’s failure to fulfil any promise to any section of the society and to put the nation, including our state, down the path of ruin. The central government has failed Punjab on all fronts – they did not help us come to the rescue of the debt-ridden farmers, they have not settled the Rs 31, 000 legacy debt that their partners, the Akalis, left us with, they have failed to give us necessary funds for development, and even funds for befitting celebration of Sri Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations. They do not care for the people, they only care to partner with big industrialists for their own petty gains. They have done everything in their power to divide people, which is not the essence
of our nation. They have destroyed all democratic institutions and have no respect for even the Constitutional bedrocks of our country – just see how they behave in the Vidhan Sabha. India does not need such leaders, it needs a party and leadership that wants to take the people along the road to progress.
How do you rate the performance of your government in the last two years? Are you satisfied?
A lot has been done, and we have fulfilled most of the promises we made to the people, or at least are on the way to implementing the same. Industry is back, investments are rolling in, farmers are finally getting their due in terms of not just the debt waiver but also smooth procurement of their foodgrains, jobs are now there for the youth and more are on the way. There is a climate of positivity, which is evident even in the stable law and order situation in the state. Corruption, drugs, gangsters and mafias – all these are virtually gone and what is left is being wiped out by the police and administrative authorities working together for the welfare of the people. So yes, I am satisfied with our performance but then, there is a flipside too, in the form of the financial constraints we are facing because of the way the previous government messed up on the economic front, as on all other fronts. So while people are getting what they deserve and need, it is somewhat slower due to the fiscal problems we face as a result of the total mismanagement by the previous government. But I promise the next three years will see us not only fulfil every single of our promises but go beyond to give more to the people of Punjab.
What has your government missed out on implementing?
Well, I wouldn’t really call it a miss but as just mentioned, we would have liked to do things much faster than we are able to do. If I had the resources, I would have liked to be able to have waived off all the loans of all the farmers and landless labourers in one go. But unfortunately, I’m having to do it in a phased manner. Infrastructure development, including more colleges and hospitals, also needs to be
speeded up, but again, it boils down to lack of sufficient resources, which prevents me expediting projects.
You are being accused of going “soft” on the drug mafia and till date no big fish have been caught. Even your own party leaders and ministers accuse you of soft pedalling.
Look, Punjab has been through a bad time under the previous government, which showed no respect for any democratic institution, be it the police or civil administration. They had no respect even for the judiciary, for that matter. I made it clear before I took over that I do not function like that and I do not indulge in political vendetta. I will not put anyone behind bars without evidence, which the SIT and the police are working on. In the meantime, you need to appreciate that we have been able to break the back of the drug mafia to save our future generations from this deadly menace. The number of arrests and seizures are a clear indication of our success on this count. As for the big fish, we will get them too, as soon as we can. And that’s a promise I mean to keep. Nobody guilty of destroying young lives like this should be allowed to go scot free. Punishment is what they deserve, and punishment is what they will get – but we will not scuttle the course of law to do that.
Congress Ministers & MLAs have been complaining that bureaucracy has been made powerful while legislators hardly have a say in governance
This is not true because I have personally made it clear to the bureaucracy more than once that I will not tolerate any disrespect to the elected representatives. All complaints and requests from ministers and MLAs are addressed promptly and the bureaucrats have clear orders to help the elected representatives
in addressing the problems of their constituents and ensure the welfare of the people.
You have divergent views with your own local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on various issues, be it Kartarpur corridor, his visit to Pakistan or his comments on the Pulwama attack. He also said his captain is Rahul, don’t you think it is gross indiscipline?
We are a functioning democracy, where every person has the right to say what he feels. How can that be termed indiscipline? Yes, Navjot and I hold different views on certain subjects, particularly in the context of Pakistan and defence matters, but then, as I have mentioned earlier, he is not a soldier and I remain a soldier at heart even though I am no longer an Army man. So we look at things differently. But that does not make me more nationalistic than him, or him any less of a patriot.
It seems that the third alliance which is being formed in Punjab will dent your vote bank
What third alliance? I have not seen or heard of any third alliance so far. The existing parties are not even able to keep their rank and file together, so how can they even think of cobbling up external alliances. What we see today is splinter groups battling for survival, which pose no threat at all to the Congress, which you will see when the results of the Lok Sabha elections come out.
During the last elections, the AAP had emerged as a major force. What’s your view about AAP’s performance in the 2019 general elections?
Now, which AAP are you talking about? The last I heard, there were at least two, and I see some more emerging by the time polls are held. They failed to counter the Congress resurgence two years ago despite being a stronger party than they are today. So if they could not do anything then, where is the question of them being a force to reckon with this time, when they are not even one single entity now.
Of the thirteen Lok Sabha seats, how many will your party win?
Thirteen – and that is what I truly believe and have promised even Rahul Gandhi, the AICC president. People will vote for performance and we have performed on every count, and they know we shall continue to do so.
The SAD-BJP alliance is accusing your government of total failure, be it on loan waiver to farmers or other promises made by you in the manifesto
That is a total lie and they know it. But we all know that a lie does not become the truth just by being repeated multiple times. Do they really think they can befool and mislead the people of Punjab with their fabrications? The people saw what they did for 10 years, and they are seeing what we have already done for them in less than two years. As far as loan waiver is concerned, I think you should go an ask the farmer whose loan has been waived and who can finally breathe freely and live to see better days. Or maybe the young men and women who have jobs in hand now, and are not being pulled into a pit of drugs. Let the SAD-BJP come out for a debate on what promises we have or haven’t fulfilled, and let us also compare that with the promises they failed to implement in 10 years. They do not have a leg to stand on, and they know it. They are just making a lot of noise because the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, and they are desperate to get at least face-saving votes.
The SAD is accusing you of interfering in panthic affairs
Let’s be very clear –the SGPC is a body of Sikhs and not the personal domain of the Badals, which is what they have been treating it as all these years. They have been running it as their fiefdom and I have already stated that I will support anyone who challenges them. We need to break their fiefdom and hand over the body back to the Sikh community, through whoever they choose to be represented by.
The employees, farmers and other sections of the society have been protesting against your government for not implementing the promises made to them by your government
These protests are not because we have not implemented the promises but because things are not happening as fast as they wanted or expected them to. And that is something I am really sorry about. Unfortunately, we just do not have the resources to give everything in one go. Which is something that we are trying to overcome. Things are already better, and as I have already said on more than one occasion, as the situation gets better, we will give more to all the sections. What we earn will continue to be shared with the people, and we shall continue to try to boost the state’s earnings, which are already in a better shape than they were two years ago.