Former Punjab chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, joined BJP on Monday and merged his Punjab Lok Congress, the party he had floated last year before the state Assembly polls, with the saffron party. Stating that “we have seen the Congress for many years”, Amarinder said on the occasion, “Now it is time to go to a party that is looking after the interests of the country. And that is BJP.”
Amarinder’s daughter Jai Inder Kaur, who has been politically active of late, and son Raninder Singh, who had contested 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Bathinda and 2012 Assembly elections from Samana constituency, also joined BJP, as did his grandson (Jai Inder Kaur’s son) Nirwan Singh, who handled public relations and media affairs for Amarinder during his stint as CM from 2017 until September 2021.
Jai Inder is tipped to make her electoral debut in the 2024 General Election from Patiala, considered the family borough, on a BJP ticket.
Amarinder’s wife Preneet Kaur currently represents Patiala as a Congress MP. Asked by the media about Kaur continuing with his old party, he said on a lighter note, “Is it necessary what the husband does the wife is also supposed to do?”
Kaur and Raninder were not present on the occasion.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Law Minister Kiren Rijiju welcomed Singh into BJP. Among those who joined the party along with Amarinder are former Lok Sabha MP Amrik Singh Aliwal, former MP Kewal Singh, former deputy speaker of Punjab Assembly Ajaib Singh Bhatti, former MLAs Harjinder Singh Thekedar, Prem Mittal, and Harchand Kaur.
Amarinder’s Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) had contested this year’s Assembly polls in alliance with BJP and both parties performed poorly. The PLC could not open its account and lost deposit in 27 of 28 seats it contested. It got only 0.54 per cent of the votes polled. The BJP won two of 73 seats it contested, managing a vote-share of 6.6 per cent.
“We are grateful to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the party president and all our senior colleagues — now colleagues of mine — who have taken the time to be with us today,” Amarinder said.
Using the occasion to flag the issue of drones entering India from Pakistan side, he said, “First, they used to come about 7 km (inside Indian territory). When I left the government last year, it would go 42 to 43 km inside.” He pointed out that the drones are now bigger and have a larger capacity, and they carry narcotics, counterfeit currency and weapons.
Stating that India has Pakistan on the west and China being “not too far from us”, he said, “It is our duty to protect our nation and our state. If we don’t do it, then we are not doing our responsibility…” Stating that Pakistan’s animosity (towards India) “has grown” over the years, he said the “drone aspect” is a new development over the last four or five years, and “I have been bringing (this) to the notice of the Home Minister and the Prime Minister”.
Observing that China is “way ahead” of India in “weaponry”, Singh hit out at his former party: “It is the Congress party’s fault. Let me tell you quite clearly I am not doing it because I am no longer with Congress; I’m doing it because I don’t think in the four terms that Mr Antony [former Defence Minister A K Antony] was there, even one type of weapon was purchased for the Army, or the Air Force or the Navy…. I don’t want to go into details, but the fact is that weaponry is coming (now) and that is something which is necessary for us if we are to secure our nation.”
Claiming that his party — PLC — has influence in states abutting Punjab, Amarinder said, “We are localised. We are the Punjab Lok Congress. But that does not mean we are just stuck there. We have grown across the borders (to other states). We have got people today, who are there in Himachal Pradesh…I hope we will produce some help in Haryana.”
Welcoming Singh into the BJP, Tomar said, “Captain-sahab has always kept the nation above all. I am delighted to welcome him and his supporters into the BJP family on behalf of millions of BJP workers.”
Rijiju said, “We both being associated with different political parties (over the years) never affected the work. I was MoS, Home Affairs, and he was the CM of Punjab. Above everything else was his astute position on keeping the interest of the people of the state and this country.”
Things seemed to be going his way in the months after March 2017, when he spearheaded Congress’s Assembly poll campaign. But Amarinder, who had often made virtue of his disinclination to keep an open house, unlike his predecessor Parkash Badal who started “sangat darshan”, seemed to have put a foot wrong in distancing himself from party leaders and MLAs. Working out of his farmhouse outside Chandigarh, he grew distant from the cadre.