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Ex-envoy shrugs off ‘outsider tag’, cites his Amritsar roots

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Tribune News Service

Aditi Tandon

New Delhi, March 24

Former Indian Ambassador to the US and ruling BJP’s potential candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat Taranjit Singh Sandhu on Sunday said his campaign was focused on unleashing the historic city’s export potential and raising local incomes to prevent youth from leaving home for foreign shores.

“People are looking at global economic resurgence through India and this has been borne out by the IMF and World Bank predictions. It is an opportunity that Amritsar and Punjab should not miss,” Sandhu told The Tribune in an exclusive interview.

The career diplomat who retired after 35 years of service shrugged off the “outsider tag” his political rivals are flagging.

“I don’t know what an outsider means,” he says, citing his Amritsar roots and the fact that Harmandir Sahib houses a building dedicated to the memory of his grandfather Teja Singh Samundari, who left the British Army and led ‘morchas’ to liberate gurdwaras.

“I only went out to serve. Soldiers also go out to serve and come back. The real issue everyone should be talking about is Amritsar’s development,” said the former diplomat, remembering his father Bishan Singh Samundari, who was principal, Khalsa College, Amritsar, and the first Vice Chancellor of the GNDU, and mother, who did a doctorate from the US and returned to become principal at Government College for Women, Amritsar.

As he follows former colleagues and incumbent ministers S Jaishankar and Hardeep Singh Puri into politics, Sandhu, 61, says it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who inspired him to “serve Amritsar”.

“The PM is very farsighted as I saw in my 10 years in both the US and Sri Lanka. That encouraged me to think ahead and yes, definitely the PM has been an inspiration for pulling me into focusing on Amritsar’s development,” he revealed.

Sandhu termed the trend of Punjab’s youth chasing the foreign dream a “short-sighted approach” and cautioned them against going to the US to do jobs they are overqualified for.

“The reality is US politics is changing. People who are going illegally will be brought back. So we need to ensure that Amritsar, which already has a university, a medical and engineering college and an IIM, offers education at one fifth if not one tenth the price our youth are paying to go abroad,” Sandhu said.

His LS poll campaign is stressing on connecting Amritsar by air to the US, UAE, Dubai and other markets and export its vegetables, fruits, heritage and products like Amritsari juttis, papads, vadis, phulkari.

“All these products are readily accessible from Amritsar. We already have an international airport and underutilised cargo facilities which can be connected to the UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Price differentials of vegetables alone between Dubai and Amritsar would be ten times. Improved connectivity will boost incomes and also address drug abuse,” Sandhu reasoned.

The former ambassador also revealed that the US’ top drug prevention officer was keen to help Punjab.

“Rahul Gupta, the White House drugs czar as he is called, is excited to help Punjab. I can bring these contacts to the table,” Sandhu said, conscious of the challenge of winning Amritsar, which the BJP last won in 2009 in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal.

“I appeal to all parties to rise above politics and focus on developing Amritsar which was educationally advanced at the time of Independence. Initial directors of PGI Chandigarh were all products of Amritsar Medical College. Amritsar has fallen way behind. Let us collaborate and get the pending jobs done,” he urged other parties.

On the BJP-SAD pre-poll LS alliance issue, Sandhu sufficed to said, “Conversations are there. I can’t comment any further.”

Focus on growth

I don’t know what an outsider means... I only went out to serve. Soldiers also go out to serve and come back. The real issue that everyone should be talking about is Amritsar’s growth. — Taranjit Singh Sandhu, ex-Ambassador to US

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