‘Because there is a media trial, I should sack my minister? I won’t do that’

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh talks to The Indian Express on his government’s performance, the human shield case and the row over the cattle trade rules.

Written by Manoj CG | Published: June 5, 2017 3:28:56 am
Captain Amarinder Singh.

Q.Your government is going to complete 100 days. How do you look at your performance?
A. I am very satisfied. We have set Punjab on a growth trajectory… decisions we take today, it takes a little time to become visible. Everything is moving smoothly in the right direction, whether it is development, or our commitments. Lot of people call and ask when are we getting the telephones, when are we getting this and that, those are all finance-related. And finance means Budget, and I can’t make commitments before that. But they don’t understand this. The kids who are demanding, they don’t know what budget is. They are saying give us what had been promised. But everything is under control.

Q. In your campaigns, you had promised that give four weeks, I will end the drug menace. What happened to that?
A. We have done it. Over 4,000 drug sellers have been arrested. And what is apparent is that it is succeeding, (cost of) one gram of heroin in Punjab market was Rs 1,500. Now it is costing Rs 5,000. We have choked the supply. Our rehabilitation centres where nobody was coming are filling up. These 4000 (sellers) are supplied by some bigwigs. We will get them eventually. We know who they are, where they are, everything. But they are not in Punjab. In fact, drug dealers are now shifting to Delhi. The Delhi government should be prepared.

Q: Have you spoken to CMs of the neighbouring states about this?
A. So far we haven’t. We have only stuck to ours. But I don’t mind talking to (Haryana CM) Khattar or to the Delhi CM.

Q. Even before completing 100 days, there is an allegation against one of your ministers. How has this Rana Gurjit Singh episode cast a shadow on your government and you?
A. Not at all. This is a trial by media and by the opposition. That is why I have put a judicial commission under a very upright judge who has retired from the high court and is a specialist in corporate law. But just because there is a media trial, I should sack my minister? I am not going to do that. If there is any wrongdoing, we would take cognizance of it, but let the judge complete his task. He has asked for one month. That is not a long time.

Q. The question is not whether he is guilty or not. The question is when there is an allegation, if you don’t ask him to step down and face probe, what is the difference between the clean government you had promised and the previous regime?
A. I am waiting for the commission to come up with an answer. If tomorrow, Mr Badal or these AAP chaps start making noise against another minister, do I sack him? I said no media trial and no opposition pressure.

Q. Would you have reacted in the same way had you been in the opposition?
A. I have been in the opposition. I have never lifted a finger unless I have proof.

Q. Did this issue come up in your meeting with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi Saturday?
A. No. He wanted to know how Punjab was doing. I gave him a rundown on the functioning of the state government.

Q. What made you support Major Gogoi, who used a Kashmiri as a human shield?
A. How old is Major Gogoi? He must have been commissioned at about 20-21.He must be 28 now… I put myself in his shoes. I have a patrol with me of 10 or 15 men. My task is bring out this polling party and CRPF personnel who are there. If stones are being thrown at me, what are the options? If I withdraw, I will be court marshalled for not doing my duty and If I go in, the only way to go in is to shoot your way in, and shoot your way out. Or the third option he used out of his young mind…If I was in his place, I would have done exactly the same thing.

Q. But many in your party do not agree?
A. Party has a different point. But I have also been a soldier. I think we are not being fair with our boys there. The situation there is the government’s responsibility. Whether it is Mehbooba or the BJP government… it is their duty to bring peace…Would you have preferred if he opened fire killing the Kashmiri boys….there would have been a bigger hungama. He should be given a pat on the back.

Q. Which the Army chief has done?
A. The Army chief has done a good thing. But the point is Kashmir has to have peace and that peace has to the brought by the governments.

Q. Are you now the hardline voice in the Congress. Or was that statement political because many in the party believe nationalism and patriotism cannot be the monopoly of the BJP?
A. I am not a hardliner. I am all for peace. We have seen a very difficult time in Punjab, much more than what these chaps are facing in Kashmir. Punjab saw 35,000 people killed, 1,700 policemen killed…we don’t want any state to pass through that trouble, whether here or in the Naxal belt or in Kashmir…they are demanding some rights in the Naxal belt… Chattisgarh is full of minerals. Why can’t you usher in economic progress?

Q. Are you suggesting there should be talks with naxals?
A. Not only talks with Naxals. What do they want? They want a future for the children. They don’t want to live in little thatched huts. When you are a rich state, why cant you do this? If I was the Chief Minister there, I would certainly talk to the Naxals and I would look at the problems they are faced with and try and help. Similar is the case in Kashmir.

Q. Are you suggesting there should be talks with Hurriyat as well as Pakistan?
A. No. Pakistan is a case of bilateral talks. Kashmir is an Indian state. Peace has to be brought in…people have to be brought into the development process. Kashmir required money to develop schools, colleges, industry. But that will only happen when people come to the negotiating table. And they will not come till peace happens. If there is anger among the youth, find out what the anger (is about) and try and solve it. I am not for any anti-national force in Kashmir.

Q. As a chief minister, what is your view on the Centre’s notification on the cattle trade rules?
A. The matter is in court. Let them come up with an answer… Why should I comment. Punjab is peaceful. Punjab does not have a business of eating beef… This is mainly coming up in those states where beef is consumed. There, the people have a right to choose their food.

Q. Do you think there should be a consensus between the government and opposition on the post of President?
A. My (party) president Mrs Gandhi will be trying to work out a consensus. I am sure she, with other leaders of the opposition, will come to an understanding.

Q. Who would make an ideal president at this point?
A. I can’t say who can be an ideal president. I think anybody who has a good reputation and is respected by all will make a good president. I am very fond of Pranab Mukherjee, but this is not for me to say.

Q. But the opposition doesn’t have the numbers? Should a contest be forced?
A. Eventually, if they don’t have the numbers, there will be a consensus. But what that consensus will be is not in my domain, but my party president’s domain. She has to take a call.

Q. You had at one point of time contemplated leaving Congress and forming a party. After that, Congress made you president of Punjab unit. So in every state, everyone should follow this route for the high command to sit up and take note?
A. Instead of sending somebody… you should allow the people of the state to decide…30 years ago, it was a different scenario. Today, you have regional parties everywhere. Those parties have leaders whom you know, who is going to the UP, Bihar, Bengal…The people, when they vote, have a right to know who is going to be the Congress’s leader. This was not the case earlier. Earlier, it was that after the elections, the MLAs will meet and decide…now they have started to do it. They put me and we won. It should be a down-up approach. Give somebody the command.

Q. As there is talk about formation of a grand alliance, should the Congress now give a signal that it does not want the Prime Minister’s post and let all the parties sit together and decide?
A. Strategic and tactical decisions are in the domain of the Congress president. But having said that, I would always say that the Congress must put forward its prime ministerial candidate and we must fight on our own. We may have won less seats, but there is no village in the country which does not have a Congress group.

Q. Should Rahul Gandhi be the prime ministerial candidate?
A. That is again the Congress president’s decision. But let me tell you, Rahul would be a fine prime minister. I knew Rahul when he was a little boy. But time has passed…his thought process has matured greatly.

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