This edition of the Express Adda hosted Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh at the Viceroy Hall of The Claridges, Delhi. In a discussion moderated by National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra, Singh spoke on a range of topics, from India-Pakistan relations to culture and the economy, the need for better infrastructure in Punjab’s cities, and the hope of better revenues through GST
On 100 days of being CM
We have inherited a state with a debt of Rs 2.08 lakh crore. So this is how we started. In the first 100 days, we have managed to increase revenue by 33 per cent. But it’s going to take a little time. I told the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) and the Vice President (Rahul Gandhi) that I wanted to go back from Parliament to the state. I’ve spent all my life there, since 1969. I want my last stint to be in Punjab so that I can bring the state out of the mess it is in. And if I achieve that in the next five years, I think it’s going to be one of the greatest achievements of my life.
On Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)
I don’t take AAP seriously as a force in the Assembly because they don’t know anything. They really don’t know parliamentary procedures. I was telling the Speaker, you should run a class for first-timers to teach them how to call attention and understand other parliamentary procedures. But as far as how the party came up, you must look at Punjab’s history. Where do the AAP’s MLAs come from? Very few are from Doaba because Doaba has a much higher rate of income. Every second house in Phillaur or Phagwara has family living abroad. But that’s not the case in southern Punjab. This is where the tenancy movement started in the ’50s, the Naxal movement of the ’60s, and the Khalistan movement in the ’70s. And that is the area AAP has targeted. The area is so backward, it’s where all the suicides are taking place — 80 suicides in the last 100 days. In the last 10 years, they’ve had 7,000 farmer suicides. That’s where we are concentrating, to try and get these people out of their misery. I hope we can bring them back into the mainstream. That anger and hurt should disappear.
On farmers and loan waiver
If I have to do an entire waiver, I need Rs 69,000 crore, and I just don’t have it. For now, all we’ve done is provided Rs 1,500 crore (for a waiver) in our budget. We’re going to take over the loan of these farmers and then with the banks, like an industry, do a settlement. But it’s very difficult for us to manage the entire thing for two reasons. One, nationalised banks are not in our purview, and we have to take them up on a case-by-case basis. So, maybe we’ll talk to banks. But the biggest loan amount is with the commission agents. The trouble is, they all give money off the record, so we don’t know how to reconcile the figures. Nobody is willing to commit, neither the farmer nor the commission agent. So that is our big problem. Other than that, we are looking to increase production in terms of the value of the crop per acre. Today, we are saying we have about five acres. With one more generation, it’ll come to two-and-a-half acres between two children. So then, we are in dire straits. We have to look for alternative sources of crop, and paddy has to go. I’m very keen on GM crops. It’s a controversial subject, and people don’t want it to happen. Take maize, for instance, if you bring GM maize in, it will raise our production by 200-300 per cent.
On the drug problem
We have about 3,700-4,000 people in prison for narcotics cases. But we haven’t got any of the big fish as yet. We will catch them. They won’t get away. When we took over, heroin was Rs 1,200-1,500 per gm. Now, it is over Rs 5,000-6,000. That means, we are strangling the flow and that is a positive thing. But we are not tackling the problem at the root – it comes from Afghanistan, the heroin, the opium… They pass through the Pakistani Rangers, through our BSF, and through our second line, which is the police. The BSF and the Pakistani Rangers seem to have a collusion of sorts. I mentioned this to the last Home Minister (L K Advani), when I was CM, and I told him that you should change these battalions around every year. I know it’s an expensive proposition. Secondly, we don’t have a national drug policy. Today, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan can grow and sell it, and Punjab becomes their market.
On the controversy around minister Rana Gurjit Singh
You cannot run a government on trial-by-media. Every time the media starts attacking somebody, I cannot attack my minister. We’ve set up three commissions. So, hopefully, it’s going well but these are things commissions will have to decide. Likewise, for our minister, we have put up a commission. If he’s found guilty, he will have to pay for it.
On Kashmir and Omar Abdullah’s view on the human shield
Tell Omar Abdullah to come and face a crowd of 5,000 stone pelters. We’ve been seeing things happening in Kashmir for a long time. I was there myself (in the Army). I don’t know if you remember, a long time ago, the Prophet’s hair was stolen from the Hazratbal shrine. And we had a lot of trouble. When people get hysterical, it’s very difficult to handle it. And here is a young Major (Leetul Gogoi), and he has done it to save his men and complete his task. If he had come back and said, ‘Sorry sir, they were throwing stones and I couldn’t go there’, he would have been court-martialled. What were the options for this youngster? What Gogoi did was the right thing. So, Omar Adbullah should first face those crowds and then talk.
On the Congress Party
We’re an active and vibrant democracy. And I think there is nothing to feel that the Congress party is not going to make it in 2019. I think times have changed. When I first joined politics, there used to be one newspaper coming to a village and somebody who was educated would read it out to people and tell them what’s happening. Now, everyone knows what is happening. I mean, if we know that Mr. Parkash Singh Badal is the candidate of the Akali Dal, then I think Punjab would like to know who will be the Congress face when the elections come. Earlier, this never used to happen. The CLP (Congress Legislative Party) would meet and choose the candidate. But with time, the Congress is also changing.
On Meira Kumar’s Presidential candidature
There was a delay in the announcement. But that doesn’t matter. Maybe in due course things may change but yes, if she had a month or two more for her campaign, perhaps it would work. I’m sure she will do very well.
On opening borders with Pakistan
What is important is to bring about a rapprochement between both sides, and opening the border. That is going to help us a great deal. Our trading points are Pathankot, Amritsar, Ferozepur, and these three will open again. Then you can take your potatoes across. For instance, now we are dumping our potatoes every year. You can’t even afford to pay for the harvesting costs. We can go through Punjab to the central Asian areas like we did once with onions. This will help overall. So I hope the two governments at the national level will resolve issues, and let us get on with this. Forget this business of Kashmir and shooting and pelting, border skirmishes and all. For a change, Punjab is surplus in power. I went to the Prime Minister and told him, ‘Sir, I have got 1,400 megawatts in power, if somebody in Pakistan is interested, will you allow me to give it?’ He said, ‘Agar koi baat hoti hai toh 6,000 toh mere paas bhi Gujarat mein hai, woh bhi lelo. Par time thoda theek hone do. (If you can find someone, I have 6,000 MW surplus in Gujarat. Take that too. But let the situation get better).’ Toh maine kaha accha chalo time hone do (So I said, ok, let the situation get better).
It was our government which brought it about. Earlier, Vajpayeeji had a commission working on tax reforms but GST has really come from Manmohan Singh’s time. We capped it at 18 per cent. Now they have made four slabs. Despite the fact that people are going to be unhappy with it, we hope to gain between Rs 5,000 and 6,000 crore.