Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh does not mince words. Be it his critiques within the party or outside, he spares none. In an exclusive interview to The Tribune reporter Rajmeet Singh, he talks on a range of issues as he leads the Punjab Congress to accomplish ‘Mission 13’. Excerpts:
What is your take on the Congress’ position in Punjab?
We are doing very well on all 13 seats. Where I initially thought we were weak, we are now going strong. Enthusiasm among the people says it all.
Is the nationalism hype post-Balakot strikes resonating in Punjab?
Any time a war breaks out, Punjab would be affected the most. People here do not want war. As far as Balakot is concerned, the Punjabis support the Indian armed forces’ response, but it is not an election issue. PM Modi took a decision under the Defence Services Act.
With six phases of polls over, what is your take on Congress’ performance at the national level?
Though it’s a subject matter of the All-India Congress Committee, from what I hear, the party is doing well everywhere. The mood is upbeat. UPA-III is going to form the next government with its allies at the Centre.
Do you think it is tougher for you this time? If there is anti-incumbency for the Modi government, it is the same for your government. Your comment?
Our test will be in 2022 when we fight the Assembly elections. Today it is Modi’s test. He has to prove what he has done in his five years of rule. I will prove to people how I have performed in 2022.
Do you see a resurgence of the SAD? Sukhbir Badal seems confidant of winning Bathinda and Ferozepur.
There is no question of the Badals winning Bathinda and Ferozepur. The fact is that people are not allowing Harsimrat Kaur Badal to enter villages in Bathinda. Black flags are being shown to Sukhbir wherever he goes. People are fed up with AAP too. Things are being played up to project Sukhbir as a great leader. He will come to know in a few days. Bargari has completely demolished the Akali Dal.
Sukhbir accuses you of using the sacrilege issue as a shield against anti-incumbency. Your response?
Sukhbir Badal must know that I will strongly hit back wherever there are incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, the Bhagavad Gita, Quran or Bible. Those destroying the secular image of the country and the state will find me their biggest enemy.
The Akali Dal is accusing you of hobnobbing with radicals. What do you have to say?
These unfounded and baseless allegations only go to show the depth of their desperation. Now that SIT probe into sacrilege cases is nearing completion, they stand to be exposed for their acts of commission and omission. If anyone has been hobnobbing with radicals, it is most likely to be the Akalis, who have always used religion as a tool to further their political interests.
Do you feel that stakes are high for the party in Bathinda, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Sangrur ?
Competition is everywhere, somewhere more, somewhere less. I do not think it is going to be a walk-through. By and large we have overcome opposition.
People are asking questions to candidates. Do you think is it’s healthy trend in democracy?
Absolutely. It will strengthen our democratic structure, which unfortunately has seen much erosion in recent years. I don’t know about other parties, but we in the Congress have taken questions from the people on public platforms.
SAD-BJP is playing up the 1984 riots issue. Congress is talking of Godhra. Is it a poll gimmick?
What I have been saying is that if Modi is trying to put the blame on us for various issues, we can put the blame on him that he was the CM when Godhra took place. Modi cannot be making sweeping statements. In case of sacrilege incidents in Punjab, I am not saying Sukhbir did it. I am saying that he is responsible as he was then Deputy CM holding the Home portfolio. I think, people have the right to know who all were involved and why those in power did not take action.
Sidhu had been missing from Punjab. He claims you did not call him.
It is not my job to call him, nor anybody else’s job to call him. It is his responsibility to campaign for the party here. Does he need a special car to pick him up? He is campaigning in whole of the country, what prevents him from coming here?
The only issue he has is that he was not allowed to speak at Rahul Gandhi’s Moga rally on March 7. It was an official function where Cooperation Minister was the stage secretary. Only Rahul Gandhi, the PPCC chief and myself were on the list of speakers. A leader as senior as Rajinder Kaur Bhattal too did not give a speech. Had it been a political function, it would have been different. I have nothing to do with denial of ticket to Navjot Kaur Sidhu for the Chandigarh seat. The Congress decided on Pawan Bansal as he was the best suitable candidate.
Many in the Congress say it’s time you assumed a bigger role in the party, may be as PM. Your take?
Not at all. I have no such ambition. On becoming MP, I realised that it was not my cup of tea. There are many capable people in our party. It is for Rahul Gandhi to decide, whether he becomes the PM or decides on someone else.