Will Amrinder Singh be Punjab`s next CM, like Rahul Gandhi promised? What is his say about his ‘khandani soap opera’ in the Punjab elections where his wife, brother and son all are in the fighting mix? In a candid chat with Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her programme Kahiye Janab, Capt. Amrinder Singh of the Congress revealed his plans to pull Punjab out of the death trap, how the Shiromani Akali Dal has ruined the state in the last five years and much more.
Swati: Rahul Gandhi has endorsed you for the first time ever; is the 90 per cent battle won?
Amrinder: I am grateful that he has supported me in this way. Problems are plenty in Punjab and if we are able to fix these problems then it would be good. The state has to move forward and as the Finance Minister pointed out a couple of days back, we are virtually in a death trap and the economy is in shambles. It’s time to take some action.
Swati: With a victory in Punjab and Capt. Amrinder Singh being the face of that victory, and a decent showing in UP, will the Congress be eyeing mid-term polls and more importantly, Rahul Gandhi as the next PM?
Amrinder: Well… Rahul is a very intelligent lad. He is very forthright and I have known him since he was a little kid, I have seen his childhood. He is a nice person and wants to know what is happening. I spent a couple of days with him recently during the campaign and he has a very curious mind.
Swati: Your detractors are saying that you have made this election a family affair. With your son, wife, brother all in the election mix, the picture is in some ways like a soap opera, isn’t it?
Amrinder: This is wrong. We put up Raninder Singh against the Badals in Bhatinda because everybody knew it will be a tough battle and eventually it turned out to be one which he lost. So the party thought he should be compensated. Same was the case with Karan Brar when she was pitted against Sukhbir Singh Badal in 2002.
Swati: But again, the Punjab politics in a way is taking the face of politics of vendetta. What do you have to say on that?
Amrinder: We never did it. Yes it was a part of our 2002 party manifesto when there were heavy corruption charges against the Akalis, so we had sought investigations into that. But, they came back to power and the entire process was just buried under. We have nearly fifty lakh complaints registered against our Congress workers. They do all these kind of things.
Swati: There are also allegations about your friendships across the border. Though it is a personal matter, why is it being dragged into politics?
Amrinder: It suits them to drag these things and make big fuss about it. Friendships are friendships. Let them do it. I don`t care.
Swati: What are your main issues in this election?
Amrinder: Last time, when I came to power, I had six-month experience as a minister, and it takes at least 2 years to find out how the government works and after that I just had three years left. But now, from day 1, we are ready with everything and we know that the economy is in shambles. We have to tighten our belts, raise funds and aim to increase the growth of Punjab. The Finance Minister had said that we have Rs 72,000 crores worth state’s debt, Rs 68,000 crores of PSU debts promised by the state itself and what about the Rs 24,000 crores of electricity board debts? It all totals up to nearly Rs 1,72,000 crores debt and we don’t have an income of even Rs 24, 000 crores. It is a grave situation and we have to tackle it.
Swati: You are in favour of FDI in retail, and even the Akalis in Punjab were in favour initially. What happened then?
Amrinder: Akalis are dependent on their big brother BJP`s decision. It happened in the case of nuclear deal; they first said that are all out for it and when BJP tightened the noose, they changed stance. Even on the FDI in retail issue, they said yes first, then BJP ne chabi kuss di and they said no. They have a mind of their own. In Punjab, for instance, the potato farmers sell their produce at Re 1 per kilogram and they cannot even recover the harvesting cost. They have thrown away all the potatoes and they are rotting like anything in places like Jalandhar. If you had the FDI this won’t happen. Small retailers store what they can, but FDI could have been a great boon for the farmers. FDI could have helped prices crash; we want FDI badly, and I hope it comes about soon. Certainly, it would do a world of good for the Punjab farmers.
Swati: The Central government was all in favour of the FDI, but Mamata Banerjee in a way blackmailed the UPA government. Do you think the regional leaders hold the UPA to ransom more often than not? This somehow prevents the government to from implementing policies which can benefit the nation as a whole.
Amrinder: Unfortunately, coalition politics is such that you come under such pressure. Unfortunately, Mamata has taken such a step, but it is not for me to comment. At that level, it is for the Congress president to comment on these matters. Certainly, I do feel it is a big letdown.
Swati: You have a feeling that you don’t have any friends in politics?
Amrinder: Waha dil ki baat hi karte thee (in Army we used to speak our mind), but here you have to watch what you say. Also, I think politics has been good to me, the party has been good to me and I can’t expect much more than this.
Swati: In context to Army Chief Gen VK Singh’s age controversy, you wrote a letter to the Defence Minister, and your stand is totally different from the government and seems you are supporting the Army Chief.
Amrinder: Not at all. What I wrote to the Defence Minister was a confidential letter and as an ex-soldier, I expressed what I felt about the situation. This is not a question of age, it’s about honour, and for an Army person honour is everything. I wrote a personal letter, how did it come in the public domain? Maybe it got leaked from the Defence Ministry. It was personal letter as a Congressman to a Congress Defence Minister.
Swati: Punjab mainly comprises of Army personnel and the farmers and for both, the main issues are drugs, employment and debt as Rahul Gandhi said.
Amrinder: I think unemployment here is the worst. There is a population of 2 crore 74 lakhs and the number of people unemployed is 37 lakhs. So you can imagine the level of unemployment leads to different things, mainly to drugs. It also builds up frustration and we have to tackle it by giving jobs. We need to save people and those who are already hooked on to drugs, de-addiction centres are the only resort. Do you know Punjab does not have a government-run or rather properly run de-addiction centre? We are working towards it and we are planning it in three levels with the international centres.
Swati: How will you characterise the Akali-BJP government?
Amrinder: They have no interest in the state, this is all non sense about development and their so called ads; have you seen their ads? They show bullet trains of Japan and talk about development; they show sky-scrapers of Manhattan and say it is Punjab’s development. All this is a lie. They have spent their five years in self preservation, self money-making and self-development.
Swati: Your brother switched parties as he was not given a ticket to contest. Were you hurt by his decision?
Amrinder: That is not the case. You can’t say Samana is my or my family’s seat or am elder so I should get it. That is a party seat and I don’t think Malvinder could have won the seat. Going into elections and helping out others is a different thing and nurturing the seat as your own is a different thing altogether. Malvinder is frustrated, for thirty-five years he has been asking for a ticket but he has not featured in any surveys that the party has conducted. If the party is convinced that he cannot win the seat, then how can he be given a ticket?
Swati: I feel you still have a bit of frustration and a feeling of being hurt when it comes to your brother.
Amrinder: No, I am not. Everyone has a mission in his life and his mission is not politics in life. He has helped me and others during polls but he doesn’t have that repo with the people. Malvinder is a bit aloof from people. Raninder, on the other hand, has that kind of repo and he gels with the people well. You can see that connect during the election campaign.
Swati: You are widely expected to be the next CM of Punjab and the highest in the priorities list would be the write-offs. Though, a lot of promises are made, what are the ground realities?
Amrinder: We have been preparing our manifesto for 6 months. One major aspect of our manifesto is the handling of state affairs and the other is about fulfilling our social obligations. We can’t turn our backs on social obligations.
Swati: Can Punjab afford these write-offs?
Amrinder: We have to see that. What we have promised is what we can afford. For instance, MSPs (minimum support price) -- we still are having farmer suicides and the MSP can never be as much as cost input increase. Tractor prices going up, pump prices are going up, fertilizers and pesticides prices are increasing, spare part prices are going up, what to do? In that case, we have to compensate and till such time we can change crop impact and get out from wheat and paddy which are MSP controlled to high value cash crops. We have to feed them, otherwise suicide rates would go up. Punjab is the only state where BPL population has increased from thirteen lakh to twenty lakh. Normally, it’s the other way round. Aata-Dal scheme is good till the food security bill comes.
Swati: There is certain anti-incumbency against the Akalis in Punjab, but how would you tackle the anti-incumbency faced by the Congress in general?
Amrinder: There is nothing of that sort; it is played up by the media and fingers are being pointed at the 2G scam, CWG fiasco etc. But the PM cannot be solely held responsible or for that matter, the Congress president. Let the law take its course and there would be no cover-ups.
Adapted by: Vineet Ramakrishnan