Dance of democracy: I dare Congress to name Charanjit Singh Channi as its CM face; Arvind Kejriwal is eyeing Punjab chief minister’s post, says Sukhbir Singh Badal | Chandigarh News

Dance of democracy: I dare Congress to name Charanjit Singh Channi as its CM face; Arvind Kejriwal is eyeing Punjab chief minister’s post, says Sukhbir Singh Badal | Chandigarh News

Since its worst drubbing in Punjab in 2017, the Shiromani Akali Dal has changed partners and avowed its panthic roots. The party exited the ruling alliance at the Centre over the soon-to-be-repealed farm laws. With assembly polls round the corner, party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal says they will not get back with BJP. The former deputy CM also claims resource constraints will not hinder growth if Akalis come to power. Excerpts:
How do you feel about the Centre deciding to repeal farm laws now, months after you snapped your decades-old partnership with BJP over the issue?
Had BJP listened to us then, they would not have needed to go through all this and so many lives could have been saved. This is exactly what we had warned them about when these laws were brought into the cabinet first. Unfortunately, they thought they could push their way through, and they did. As a result, we had to go through a crisis for nothing. The central government is solely responsible for this. Our stand has been vindicated.
Backlash against the farm laws started in June when ordinances were promulgated, and Parliament cleared them in September. Don’t you think SAD lost three-and-a-half months in taking a clear stand?
No. Our stand was clear from Day 1. We said these laws are unviable. The central governsment repeatedly assured us that they would make the changes which we wanted but did not. I met the BJP president the day bills were brought in Parliament and requested these be sent to a select committee. They refused, and we walked out of the alliance.
You said at the time that BJP did not consult you for five years. You think you were overlooked as a coalition partner?
Not only SAD, all the allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) felt that way. NDA is limited to one person.
Your videos in support of three farm laws went viral, wherein you were asking then state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar to read the laws first. The party took a U-turn?
Those videos were meant to take farmers on board and take their suggestions for changes required in the laws. As we were assured by the central government they would make necessary changes, we reached out to farmers to know their demands.
You claim your party was opposed to the laws from the beginning, but public perception seems different. Why?
Then the perception is different from facts. The fact is that Captain Amarinder Singh’s government was part of the committee that formed the laws and Manpreet Singh Badal attended the meetings. They never raised an alarm and did not tell people that such laws are being framed. This is a criminal act. The biggest culprits are the Congress because they are signatory to these laws. We have nothing to do with these laws. Our only mistake is that we happened to be present in the cabinet. All the political parties look at Akali Dal as the biggest challenge and they keep on focusing on the Badals and Akali Dal for everything.
SAD has had a strong support base in rural areas. Why didn’t this message reach the farmers?
BJP was their target, and we were their allies. People who protested against us were not farmers but members of the Congress. I have photographs of elected representatives of the Congress protesting, in the guise of farmers. Not all people carrying flags are farmers. The farmers’ flags gave immunity which was being misused. I have been travelling across the state and getting very good support.
But you were forced to take a break from the campaign after objections by farm groups.
I was not stopped from holding rallies. I held rallies but I did not want the Congress to gain the upper hand. What was happening was that the government was getting its own people to protest and wanted me to start a fight. They wanted violence but in the interest of the state, we avoided the situation and took a break. I am the only leader who has covered most of the constituencies. Which other leader has managed to do so? I have been walking through the groups of such people showing me black flags. They don’t scare me.
What change do you see in the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his announcement to repeal farm laws?
It makes no difference. First, you destroy something and later apologize. The image doesn’t change immediately.
The conversation about appointing Dalits to top constitutional posts in the state started in April and within a few months Punjab got its first Dalit CM. How do you view this?
Anyone who is competent should become chief minister — be it a Jatt, Dalit, or Hindu. The Congress played a game. They first propped up the name of Sunil Jakhar, but he was rejected because he is a Hindu. Later several names, including that of Navjot Singh Sidhu emerged, but at last, they played Dalit card. If Charanjit Singh Channi is competent, he should have been the first choice. I challenge Congress to announce Channi as their CM face in the upcoming elections.
Last week, you gave a statement, “Don’t punish Akali Dal, SGPC for my faults”. Is the Akali Dal still trying to fighting the perception battle since the sacrilege incidents in 2015?
I did not say it in that context. I said that SGPC and Akali Dal are the institutions of the panth and Punjab. I am the president today. Tomorrow, some else might be the president. If the president committed any mistake, the institutions should not be penalised. These institutions are over 100 years old and targeting them will make them weak. If Sikhs anywhere in the world face any problem, they don’t call Sonia Gandhi, Amit Shah, or Arvind Kejriwal, they call Akali Dal.
A lot of splinter groups of Akali Dal accuse your family of weakening these institutions and have been demanding gurdwara elections.
Elections have been taking place every five years for the past 100 years. A voters’ list is made, and elections held under the rules of the Election Commission of India. Every election, such people stand up and rake up such issues. Despite that, they end up losing their security deposit. I could have captured it once or twice, but not for 100 years. Recently, DSGMC elections took place, in which AAP and the Congress representatives contested, but we won hands down. There were and are many splinter groups, but people only have faith in one Akali Dal.
Given his age and health conditions, will SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal contest the upcoming state assembly elections?
I want him to contest and keep regularly telling him so. I am keeping my fingers crossed and hope that he contests. I don’t want him to hang his boots. His mere presence has such an impact – it softens so many people, even the opposition.
After severing ties with BJP, your party leaders said that they would work on an alliance of regional parties at the national level. What happened?
There is a reason. Our number one enemy is the Congress, because of what they have done to Punjab and Sikhs. We cannot align with them. The problem is that many regional parties are aligning with them.
Several lesser-known groups cobbled up and made Sanyukt Kisan Morcha. Do you think that it can be the way forward for India?
These revolutions start from nowhere. If you look the world over, students have started revolutions. But regionalism is the only way forward. Give more powers to the states. Because now slowly, slowly things are completely going into the Government of India’s hands. Earlier, we had VAT. We could pay salaries on Day 1. Our income was secure. Now if they delay it (GST) for 20 days, we cannot pay salaries. They decide whether the states should get 10% or more GST. We are completely in their hands now. If they stop paying you for one month, what will you do? You (the Centre) want to take decisions on everything. Even if a scheme is good for UP, it may not have any relevance for Punjab. But we are forced to implement it in Punjab because that is an all-India scheme.
If the SAD comes to power in the 2022 assembly elections, how do you plan to generate income from resources within the state?
There are various ways of generating income. If you look at the tenure of my last government, there are clear examples. When we took over in 2007, VAT was Rs 5,000 crore a year. When I left in 2017, it was Rs 19,000 crore a year. That means it took 40-50 years to reach Rs 5,000 crore, and in 10 years I made it Rs 19,000 crore. When we took over, the excise collection was Rs 2,000 crore and we took it to Rs 6,000 crore per annum. It is the will of the government whether you want to destroy the economy or make it. Look at the infrastructure growth during our time. You need ideas, money is not the problem. Today a startup (entrepreneur) becomes a billionaire in two years. It is one idea. States also need ideas.
In your 13-point charter for the polls, you have announced 50% reservation for women in government jobs. Yet only two women have been named as candidates out 83 announced so far. Why?
I agree with you. We need to increase the numbers. It is not that we do not want to give (tickets). But women have not been active in politics. We want them to start getting active. The first step is 50% reservation for women in municipalities and panchayats. Once they reach there, then you will pick from the top. At the moment, we don’t have that many women. I am sure that in the next 10 years we’ll have them.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is in Punjab, and he has been making many poll promises. What’s your reaction?
Why do we need Kejriwal’s guarantee? Don’t they have any Punjab leader to give guarantees? What he is trying to prove is that all Punjabis are incompetent. ‘When I come to power, I will give’. Then why doesn’t he say that my fifth guarantee is that I will be the AAP Punjab CM face?
So you think that Kejriwal wants to be Punjab CM?
100%. Is he allowing any Aam Aadmi Party face to grow? When you take a loan from the bank, does the bank manager ask for your guarantee or your neighbour’s? Punjab people are going to deal with the Punjab face. It is the unfortunate part, he (Kejriwal) is everything and these people (AAP Punjab leaders) are just rubber stamps.
The SAD-BJP government was not able to deliver justice in 2015 sacrilege and police firing cases at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan. The Congress has also failed so far, despite these being the biggest issues in the 2017 and 2019 elections. Why should people vote for these three parties?
When sacrilege happened, we immediately started an investigation. At that time, all the jathebandis, including the Congress, went to the President and the state governor saying that they did not want an investigation by the Punjab government. So, keeping in view the sentiments of all political parties, we gave the investigation to CBI within 10 days of the incident. When they (Congress) came, they got it back from the central probe agency. They have not done anything.
I will show you how we can catch the culprits. Their intention has never been to catch the culprits. Their intention has been political. All the time they say Badal, Badal, Badal. They set up a commission. They set up SITs. But still, they keep on saying the same thing.
You recently claimed that you were worried that they would falsely implicate you.
A conspiracy took place where the chief minister, the home minister, and the SIT team met in the guest house of Governor House and planned how to create a fake witness (who would implicate Badals). We made public the name of would-be witness and everything. After two days, we were proven right. They are that desperate.
What are the top five issues in the 2022 polls?
We need a chief minister. We were without a chief minister for five years. There is a law-and-order problem, gangster problem, everything has collapsed, no new infrastructure, and things are deteriorating.
You need a real CM who can take the state forward. Not a drama king. If you look at the past, whatever work has happened in Punjab has happened because of the Akali Dal government. You can use Google to check whether my statement is right.
From power to roads to airports to any other infrastructure. Only the Akali Dal did it. Every welfare scheme has been launched by Akali Dal. What this Congress government is doing is putting the baggage on Capt Amarinder’s head and trying to show that they are new and clean, even though they were the biggest culprits in the last government. But the people of Punjab are not that foolish.
How bad is law and order?
Today, gangsters run the state. I have industrialists, lawyers and (rice) sheller people coming to me and saying they get extortion calls from gangsters sitting in jails. One Barnala industrialist told me that he got a call from Lawrence Bishnoi and he said that he thought it was all rubbish. He asked the caller how could he know he was actually talking to Lawrence Bishnoi. He (Bishnoi) told him to switch to FaceTime. The industrialist called him on FaceTime and (Bishnoi) was sitting there. You go to Ludhiana and women can’t go out because of snatching incidents. It (mafia) is run by the Congress MLAs. For 20 days in a month in Ferozepur city there is firing. There are gang wars there. Suppose you are a CEO, if you are not here for three months, everyone will relax. You need a chief minister people are scared of.
Former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh had been talking a lot about external threats. What do you say about that?
I don’t have anything to say. You don’t have to say anything. Everyone knows that it is Pakistan. What is the drug problem in India? It is Pakistan. One of the guys gave a statement that why are drugs coming from only Punjab when Pakistan has a border with J&K, Rajasthan, and Gujarat? I’ll tell you why. In J&K there is no village next to the border. There is no habitation. For miles, there is a complete Army. In my constituency (Ferozepur) there is a village which is surrounded by Pakistan. For them, there is no Army or police there. So, if somebody wants to throw something they can. In Rajasthan, the whole border area is desert, except Ganganagar district. For miles, if you throw a weapon, it will be lying on the sand dunes. The same thing is in Kutch area.
With AAP making inroads in Punjab, do you think it is time for the Akali Dal to initiate efforts to bring back dissidents?
See, there are a lot of breakaway groups that will form the third or the fourth front. I think whatever is left will come up in one package. People are going to give a decisive verdict.
Even last time, when there was the highest AAP wave, when everyone talked about AAP, they got only 20% votes. In Lok Sabha polls three years back, their vote share came down to 6%, and that too after Bhagwant Mann got 1.5 lakh votes more. Otherwise, it would have been a 1% vote share.
In municipal committee elections five months back, out of total committees, AAP got 20. AAP is more of a hype. SAD is a 100-year-old party with a grass-roots base and there is an emotional attachment of the people with it.
How do you feel about the centenary year being marred by the pandemic and farmers’ agitation?
This is very sad. Such occasions come once in a lifetime – SGPC’s 100 years and the Akali Dal’s 100 years.
You were quite confident of contesting a few seats in UP in 2017 and you also had one or two MLAs in Uttarakhand, including Harbhajan Singh Cheema. Any plans this time?
No plans this time. Back then we were in alliance with BJP and we had the whole thing going. This time the focus is on Punjab.
Any chance of joining hands with Capt Amarinder’s outfit?
No. They will not get anything. In his life, he has not worked. Do you think he is going to work for two months?



You must be logged in to post a comment Login