Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Amarinder Singh has described the February 13 Assembly byelection in the state as “Khadoor Sahib vs Guru Granth Sahib”, and said his decision to keep the party away from it was “morally correct” and supported by the Sikh community.
The byelection is taking place because Ramanjit Singh Sikki of the Congress vacated the seat in protest against the incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in October 2015, and alleged police inaction against the culprits.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Amarinder Singh said the Shiromani Akali Dal’s expected victory in the byelection would be questionable as the party had decided to put winning the election ahead of finding the culprits behind the acts of sacrilege against the Sikh holy book.
“[Sikki] sent his resignation without discussing it with me or anyone else. And I supported him on it, and the decision he took to not fight the election is absolutely correct till such time as this government comes out and answers just two questions: who did it (the desecration), and who ordered the [police] firing in which two people were killed and 40 injured – they are answering neither of them, because the fingers will point at Mr Badal eventually,” Amarinder said.
Defending his decision not to put Congress in the race, Amarinder, who took over as PCC chief in December 2015, said the party had taken the sentiments of the community into consideration on the desecration.
“The majority of the Sikhs are supporting us on this issue. Because it is Khadoor Sahib vs Guru Granth Sahib. I’ve had so many NRIs call me and send me messages, and they are all saying you’ve taken the right decision. Guru Granth Sahib comes first. And therefore I find it’s going to be very difficult for Parkash Singh Badal to answer this question — as to why are you fighting this election. Are you more interested in winning the seat or in [finding out who is behind] the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib?,” he said.
SAD was not bothered, said Amarinder “They seem to be bothered only about Khadoor Sahib, about winning it. So let them win. But morally we are correct.”
The Congress announcement that it would contest Khadoor Sahib came on the last day of the nomination on January 27 after a series of seeming flip-flops by the party.
Amarinder explained that although the decision to stay away from the election was taken as early as January 22, he waited to declare it only at the last minute as he did not want to give AAP, which had already announced it would not be contesting, any opportunity to change its mind and field a candidate.
“[Arvind] Kejriwal [AAP leader] I don’t trust, he’s always said something and done something else. I thought they could easily change their mind and stick a guy into Khadoor Sahib, so that’s why we waited till the last minute. Otherwise we were ready to do this five days in advance. If we were not going to fight, they may have beaten the Akalis, then they would be one up for the next elections, and we didn’t want that to happen. I waited till 3 pm on Jan 27, and at 5 pm it was all over,” he said.
Ruling out SAD as a threat to Congress in the 2017 elections, Amarinder described AAP as the “third factor” which was likely to cut into Congress votes, but said the party was a “dangerous” and “destablising force” in Punjab as it had support from the extreme right and left, plus frustrated youth.
“Akalis are going to be down in the dumps, they and the BJP, whether they stay together or fight separately. They’ve had 10 years, they’ve messed this state up. So they are going down. So I’m not worried about them. And that vote bank of theirs, I feel of course it will split, part will go to AAP, part will come to us,” he said.
The AAP in Punjab, was not the “citizen’s party” that it was in Delhi, he said.
“Here, you’ve on one side the extreme left, cadres are breaking from the Congress and joining, then you have the frustrated youth, then on the extreme right, you’ve the Khalistanis joining. That is going to be, to my mind, a destabilizing force for Punjab.
He said this is why he had started interacting with young people in Punjab’s university and colleges, including on Skype, to listen to them and figure out their problems.
Their main preoccupation, Amarinder said, was finding jobs, the drugs problem in Punjab and finding money for their education.
Amarinder was also confident that there was “no space [in Punjab] for a third force”. Though parties emerged periodically, they never lasted.
“It will be Akalis and us. Last time, the entire press was giving the government to Manpreet Badal [estranged cousin of Deputy Chief minister Sukhbir Badal and leader of the People’s Party of Punjab], that he is the new chief minister, they are sweeping Punjab. But they never won one seat.I thinking everyone is looking too much at AAP, and it’s not going to happen.
There’s no space here for a third force. It’s never been historically. Who knows the future? But so far, it’s never been. We’ve had temporarily, and then they’ve disintegrated. Eventually, it’s only two parties.”