Interview with Amarinder Singh | “People identify more with a leader than with a party”
Former Punjab Chief Minister dismisses any election challenges to his recent alliance with BJP by Congress or AAP
Ahead of the Assembly elections in just over a month, the former chief minister and fledgling congressman of Punjab Lok Amarinder Singh, who has allied with the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt), is convinced that the people of Punjab will vote for their alliance because people identify more with the leader than with the party. “It is the leader who has to take whatever it is, success or failure,” he said, dismissing any challenge from Congress, SAD or AAP. Extracts:
What would be the key program of your party to seek votes in the next assembly ballots?
I have already made it clear that national security and the revival of the Punjab’s economy will be our main priorities. The Punjab is a border state, bordering on a perpetually hostile neighbor, Pakistan. Pakistan and its Deep State will never rest and they are constantly on the lookout for turmoil and turmoil in Punjab. They send through weapons using sophisticated technology. Recently our security staff found a Pakistani boat in the Satluj River. These are all worrying signs. In addition, there are anti-Indian propagandists supported and sponsored by the ISI.
Second, the economy. The Punjab has a cumulative debt burden of around ₹ 5 lakh crore. How are you going to pay it back? It is a vicious circle that we will have to break out of and it is a tall order. And for all this we need total peace, because peace is the precondition for progress and prosperity.
You said that once the code of conduct is in place, several leaders of Congress will join you. When can we expect this to happen? Can you share the number of these leaders?
Wait and watch. I cannot tell you the exact figures. We are in regular contact not only with congressional leaders and lawmakers, but also with those of other parties. You will get to know each other very soon. The time has come.
You fight the polls in alliance with the BJP. [but] farmers were angry with the BJP for three farm laws, which were eventually repealed. Do you think the anger will subside?
Of course, the farmers calmed down. Their main demand was the repeal of three laws, which are repealed. A committee is already in place to look into the issue of the legal guarantee of the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The Prime Minister has been magnanimous and I am sure farmers will do the same.
How do you react to the farmers’ protest in the context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent rally in Ferozepur and the “security hijack”?
It was a serious security breach. It was not really the protest of the farmers. It was a state government sponsored protest and disruption. They were quite suspicious of the Prime Minister’s rally in Ferozepur, fearing it would strengthen our campaign. They asked the police to block the passage of people coming to the rally. The same way they tried to disrupt the Prime Minister’s cavalcade. They are lying when they say there was no threat to the Prime Minister’s security.
You remember how evil people almost lynched a BJP deputy from Abohar Arun Narang or congressman Ravneet Bittu. It’s good that the Prime Minister’s cavalcade has stopped from a distance. Otherwise, the worst could have happened.
Congress and other opposition parties accuse you of being hand in hand with Badals and therefore failing to act against former minister Bikram Singh Majithia in the drug-related affair. After your withdrawal from the post of CM, the Channi government filed an FIR against Mr. Majithia. What do you have to say?
Just because they have nothing against me, they say, I was hand in hand with the Badals. Because it doesn’t cost them anything to say that. Either way, I really don’t care.
Regarding the case of Majithia, an investigation was carried out by the Special Working Group. The investigation report is pending in a sealed envelope at the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. Until the moment you don’t open it, how do you know how a case can be brought against Majithia, or anyone else for that matter? Justice must not only be done, it must appear to have been done. Just because they would say I’m hand in hand with ‘Badals’ doesn’t mean I would have skipped legal proceedings to appease them. The law of this land does not work according to the whims and fancies of anyone. There is due process that must be followed.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for your alliance in the ballot – the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal-BSP or the Aam Aadmi Party? Also, what do you think would be the political fallout from 22 farmer unions challenging the polls?
Honestly, I don’t see any competitions with anyone. I will tell you why. Take Congress. It is in a state of continuing civil war. Punjabi Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu disagrees with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. The CCP chairman behaves like a pampered child making one request after another and he will never be satisfied. Now he wants him declared a candidate for the post of chief minister. If Congress does this, it loses the strong Listed Castes (CS) voting base and if it doesn’t, Sidhu will run away.
The Akalis are nowhere in the photo. People have not forgiven them for the way they handled cases of sacrilege and the protests that followed. I don’t see them reaching even the last digit of 13 or more.
The AAP bubble burst during the legislative elections of 2019. Their share of the vote fell to just 7% from 25% in 2017. They might not even cross double the bar this time around.
Farmers, if they challenge, will lose their credibility as the majority of their leaders oppose participation in elections. In addition, they had maintained an apolitical character throughout the unrest. If and when they join the electoral process, they will be faced with difficult questions.
You said that as Chief Minister of Congress you fulfilled about 90% of the Congress Party’s election promises. If so, why shouldn’t people vote for Congress again in the next ballot?
People identify more with the leader than with the party. This is no longer the same Congress that I led. Navjot Singh Sidhu has been in the party for not even five years and Mr. Channi joined the party in 2012. They cannot claim credit. It is the leader who must take responsibility for what it is, success or failure.
When should your alliance announce the candidates? What would be the distribution of seats among the alliance partners?
We have already had a few rounds of talks. This is an ongoing process. I have said it several times, the numbers do not matter to us because who disputes how many. Our only criterion is the victory of the candidates whatever their party, whether it is the PLC, the BJP or the Shiromani Akali Dal (Sankyukt).