“Goa is the easiest place in India to get drugs, but there are hardly any arrests. Punjab is acting tough, but gets branded as the drug capital,” said Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday.
Badal was responding to questions on the drugs crisis in his state at the latest edition of Express Adda in Delhi, which he attended along with his wife Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
Moderated by The Indian Express National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and National Bureau Chief Maneesh Chhibber, the discussion covered a variety of topics — from the fight against Congress and AAP and the terror attacks in Pathankot and Dinanagar to their incidental foray into politics, and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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The two-hour session started with the Badals being questioned about the Shiromani Akali Dal’s poll-preparedness ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in Punjab, and the upcoming bypoll in Khadoor Sahib. Harsimrat was quick to retort: “Akalis are good at being ready for elections all the time.”
Taking a dig at his arch rival and state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh, Sukhbir said, “It’s tough to sustain the (campaign) momentum for an year, especially for parties like Congress who can’t bear the summer heat. And no one can beat the energy of my father (Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal).”
Speaking of elections, the discussion veered towards the new entrant in the poll fray, Aam Aadmi Party, and campaign manager Prashant Kishor, who has been hired by Capt Amarinder to manage his campaign.
Sukhbir said, “If AAP is ready for elections, why are they running away from the by-election? They are mostly media hype. As for the Prashant Kishor factor, elections are about being grounded and not about management. If it was, Tatas… would be winning polls.”
Harsimrat’s response was quick and short: “We have Sukhbir.”
Sukhbir was also asked about his political rivalry with Capt Amarinder. “Amarinder is my father-in-law’s best friend. In fact, he was… till he filed a case against me,” said Sukhbir. Harsimrat interjected, “How can he be (my) father’s friend when he is calling my brother (state revenue minister Bikram Majithia) a druglord?”
Taking a swipe at Amarinder, Sukhbir added, “He is a raja but never got to rule. So someone told him that if you want to rule Punjab, finish off the Badal family. In fact, when he filed a disproportionate assets case against us for running nightclubs in Delhi, my father asked me, ‘Kaka, what is a nightclub?’ Even though I never take his name in my speeches, he is all about Badal and badla.”
While Sukhbir also dwelled at length about their development agenda and his pet projects like Saanjh Kendras, Seva Kendras, the international airport and expressways, the topic that dominated the discussion was the drugs crisis in Punjab.
Sukhbir said, “Goa is the easiest place in India to get drugs, but there are hardly any arrests. Punjab is acting tough, but gets branded as the drug capital. We all know that drugs coming from Pakistan and Afghanistan and meant for the rest of the country enter India through Punjab. Punjab is just a highway for the drugs route and not the market.”
In his defence, Sukhbir also quoted the latest AIIMS survey which says that “only 0.7% of youth in Punjab are drug addicts”. He openly invited members of the audience to conduct their own survey in Punjab on state expenses and find the truth for themselves.
Sukhbir also accused the media of playing up Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statements (on the drugs crisis) for TRPs. “Mr Gandhi has a habit of reading from slips and the media loves him,” he said, referring to the remark made by Gandhi last year that 70% of youth in Punjab are drug addicts. “If that was true, Punjabis wouldn’t have been producing grains for the entire country,” he added.
Referring to her portfolio, Harsimrat Kaur highlighted the importance of technology. “We need to bring technology in the agriculture and food sector. We are still on a bullock cart,” she said.
Sukhbir, meanwhile, sought “an end to the tax on food processing”.
On the political front, the Deputy CM was asked about SAD’s coalition with the BJP. “My father told me, ‘we are like family’. Ours is not a coalition based on give and take. We are together.”
Asked about the previous elections when SAD was almost written off but staged a win, Sukhbir said, “I told you that the last elections, we are going to win. Nobody believed me.”
He also spoke about the NDA’s other coalition partner, the PDP in Jammu & Kashmir. “The biggest example of BJP’s tolerance is J&K, where they formed a government with PDP,” he said.
The couple revealed to the audience how they were both ‘incidental politicians’. “When I got married, we had an understanding that Sukhbir will never join politics. Five years later, I saw him fighting his first election. And now, 20 years later, not just him, me and my brother are also into politics. I grew up in Delhi, in a political family, hating politics and politicians all the time. It was in my destiny to be here, and the sooner we accept it, the better,” said Harsimrat.
She added in a lighter vein, “Nobody asked me before declaring my name for the Bathinda seat. I was in a gurudwara, washing utensils, when my gunman came running to me and said, ‘Bibaji, your name has been announced for MP elections.”
The Union Minister was also all praises for the leadership and working style of PM Modi, “He is a dynamic leader in the true sense. A leader who is leading, works very hard and makes all of us work very hard.” She later tweeted from her official handle @officeofhkbadal: “It was a great experience to be part of #ExpressAdda today. The dialogues helped create stirring thoughts in minds of people.”