Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was one of the Congress’s tallest leaders but left it to form the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) last year. On Friday, his party announced its merger with the BJP, with Singh set to join the party on Monday.
In an interview with The Indian Express the day before the merger was announced, Singh, an Army veteran, spoke on a range of issues, including the AAP government, the ruling party’s allegation that the BJP was trying to buy off its MLAs, Raghav Chadha’s role in the state, and his opposition to the Agnipath scheme.
The AAP government has scrapped your flagship ‘Guardians of Governance’ scheme. What is your take on that?
It is the incumbent government’s decision to do away with the scheme. The scheme was started to engage ex-Army men to check fraud in welfare schemes at the village level. Under the scheme, they would recommend to respective deputy commissioners who would then take action.
AAP is alleging that there is an ‘Operation Lotus’ at play to topple the government in Punjab.
It does not make any sense if the BJP buys 12 MLAs out of the 92 MLAs the AAP has. You need more than 50 per cent (to topple the government). They (AAP) are making unnecessary noises just to divert attention.
The Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue is back in the spotlight. What is your take?
My stand on the issue is clear and has been for a long time. We are against it (construction of the SYL canal). A state cannot give anything in which it is deficient. Its people will suffer. I think everyone in Punjab understands that if we don’t have any surplus water, we cannot share it with any other state.
You have been flagging the issue of drones carrying arms, ammunition, and drugs from Pakistan into Punjab. The Punjab DGP has said it has registered a 50 per cent increase in drone sorties this year compared to the previous one. What is your reaction?
I was the first to point out the smuggling of arms, ammunition, and drugs through drones. After Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa became deputy CM with the home portfolio in the Charanjit Singh Channi-led government, he issued statements to negate my remarks.
I told him that when I left (as Punjab CM) that week alone two drones came up to 42 kilometres from the state’s border. It became a national problem. The jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) was enhanced precisely due to this reason.
One positive thing that is happening now is that the Centre is getting trials done for an anti-drone technology to jam the drones at the border itself.
The devices under the trial will have a range of six kilometres to jam the drones. As the technology gets crystallised, the penetration ability of the drones would be checked by rendering them ineffective at the border.
Though there is anti-drone missile technology in place in various countries and was also used in three layers at the Tokyo Olympics, jamming is the best solution for drones that come to Punjab as they are low-flying.
The jamming devices will not only be deployed in Punjab but also in border areas in Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and along the China border.
The Border Security Force (BSF) has expressed concerns about illegal mining in border areas. How serious is this and how has the AAP government’s response been?
This is very serious. If illegal mining continues in such areas, the defensive line of the BSF will collapse. As far as the AAP government in Punjab is concerned, do you think they are doing anything?
After all, is it a working government when there is a man – Raghav Chadha – who comes from Delhi and calls the shots? Anything which is important is sent to Delhi for (Delhi CM Arvind) Kejriwal to decide. They are not letting the poor CM (Bhagwant Mann) function. For the first time in the country, a government is working in this fashion. Every major order is passed by Kejriwal and implemented by Chadha, with the CM getting to sign that order. It is a shame. This is happening for the first time in the country. It is a sad thing for Punjab. How does Kejriwal know? Chadha know? Have they ever lived in Punjab?
Everyone takes time…This is my 52nd year (in politics) in Punjab. I am still learning about what happens in the state and what the problems in Majha, Malwa, and Doaba regions are. If Chadha says he knows everything about Punjab, it is a total fallacy. He knows nothing.
What is your reaction to the controversy surrounding the Agnipath scheme?
I am 101 per cent against it. Under the scheme, out of four years, you are taking some months for training. With 60 leaves in a year, almost another year goes in leaves. So, effectively, three years for a soldier in a regiment is too short. As an officer, I underwent four years of training. Under this scheme, a soldier can never be trained properly. There are (retired army) generals who are supporting the scheme. Someone wants to become a Governor, somebody (wants to become) something else. But they forget the situation in the Army. Agnipath is not the solution.
Every regiment (in the Army) has its own battle cry and ethos. You cannot mix Sikhs, Marathas, Biharis, and Nagas into one regiment. In a dedicated regiment, you have a jaikara (a slogan). The Sikh regiment will go to fight with “Bole So Nihal” and carry the Guru Granth Sahib. And when you blend, there will be logistical problems. Soldiers of different faiths will carry their own models of worship.
There are issues with Pakistan but there could be bigger issues with China. The morale of the Indian Army needs to be kept high. Gurkhas have their own battle cry. And if you mix them, what will be the battle cry which motivates the soldiers as they launch an assault on the enemy in a do-or-die battle? I am totally against the Agnipath scheme.