Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Partap Singh Bajwa was among the Congress leaders detained, and later let off, in Chandigarh on Thursday during a demonstration in support of former party president Rahul Gandhi. He speaks to The Indian Express about the state of affairs in Punjab, his party, why he thinks Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a “proxy CM”, and the Sangrur Lok Sabha by-election on June 23.
A former Congress minister was arrested and another booked in a corruption case. Several other senior Congress leaders have joined the BJP. What is happening in Punjab Congress?
Bajwa: Those who have deserted the Congress and joined the BJP went to the saffron party’s fold to seek protection. They saw how (BJP leader) Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga was given protection by the (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi-led government. Bagga was freed from the Punjab police team and taken back to Delhi from Karnal, where the Haryana Police held the Punjab Police team hostage. The party leaders who switched to the BJP want such protection. As far as the arrest of Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and the booking Sangat Singh Gilzian in corruption cases is concerned, the AAP government is trying to demoralise the Congress cadre through such moves. By arresting and booking senior Congress leaders, the AAP is trying to create a fear psychosis among the grassroots workers and activists of the Congress.
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The AAP government says there is zero-tolerance for corruption. CM Bhagwant Mann got his own Cabinet colleague Vijay Singla booked and arrested in a corruption case. How do you see that?
Bajwa: Bhagwant Mann is a proxy chief minister. He is following the Delhi model where the food and civil supplies minister was sacked in 2015 only to be elevated to another position later. It is their signature style. There is no authentic proof. In Singla’s case also, he (Singla) claims to have received no money. He may get clearance after six months or so and a prime position in the AAP.
Do you think the Sangrur by-election is going to be a referendum on the AAP government’s three-month rule?
Bajwa: I will not call this election a referendum on the AAP government. But certainly, it will be worth waiting to see where the party (AAP) that won Sangrur by 4.7 lakh votes last time stands now. There has been a steep fall in the AAP’s popularity. This election is very important since the AAP draws its support from the pockets of Malwa districts, especially Sangrur, Bathinda, and Mansa.
So, according to you, who is the main opponent of the Congress candidate (Dalvir Goldy) in Sangrur?
Bajwa: It is basically a contest between the Congress and the AAP. Hardliners may vote for SAD (Amritsar) candidate Simranjit Singh Mann, but all voters who stand for nationalism and secularism will choose the Congress over the AAP.
What about the BJP?
Bajwa: The BJP candidate will end up forfeiting his security deposit.
The family of singer Sidhu Moosewala is saying that his name should not be used for political mileage in the Sangrur bypoll. Your opinion?
Bajwa: SAD (Amritsar) candidate Simranjit Singh Mann is using his (Moosewala’s) photos in the poll campaign. As far as Congress is concerned, his (Moosewala’s) father has already clarified that the PPCC (Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee) chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring never pressed him (Moosewala) to contest and that it was the singer’s own decision. But, since he was a Congressman, we cannot disown him. His mother has been a Congress sarpanch. But, the Congress will never try to play vote-bank politics using his name.
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