A day before campaigning wound up for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh spoke with The Indian Express on the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his “claim” that the Balakot strikes are “his personal success”, and the state of affairs in Punjab. Excerpts:
How is this election different from the previous ones?
What has made a major difference is the social media. Also, there are at least 25 per cent more TV channels than five years ago. The coverage is much more, and people are very aware.
How many seats do you hope to win, considering you (Congress) had only three last time (in Punjab)?
We will sweep the state, and it is not a statement I am making just like that. The Akali Dal is divided into three, so is the Aam Aadmi Party. The Congress will be the biggest gainer. This division, coupled with the anger against the Akalis, our principal opposition, on the sacrilege issue will have a major impact on voting. The Congress will get an upper hand.
You have decided to build a memorial to victims of the unprovoked firing at Bargari.
Yes, we actually announced it earlier, but we were in a quandary. Putting money into a cenotaph is not really worth it. We left it to the village to decide but I would suggest that they should set up an institute of sorts, or a college, that really benefits people.
Today the tendency is to make gates. But what is the benefit of a gate? It should be something where children can study, or may be a hospital.
What are the prospects of Congress in rest of the country?
I have been talking to colleagues I have been flying with, and everyone is very upbeat. Statistically, if you ask me which state is doing what, I can’t tell you, but indications are that we are doing well.
Your speeches have been largely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You were the first to take on the Prime Minister on the Balakot strikes.
I don’t think Modi has any right to claim these as his personal success. No Prime Minister before him — from 1947 until now – has claimed any strike (by the forces) as their personal success. They have always attributed it to the armed forces. Mrs Indira Gandhi gave full credit to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (for the 1971 war).
After that, (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee gave credit for Kargil success to the defence services – to the then (Army) chief Gen V P Malik. The decision is obviously taken by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet and the (service) Chiefs do brief the Cabinet. But it is the defence services that finally carry out the mission.
As for people questioning the Balakot strikes, I think people have the right to question. When the Air Force chief tells me he has hit the target, I believe him because I am a [retired] serviceman, but there are millions and millions of other people who would like to know whether the strikes took place or not. Why I am saying this is because during Kargil (War), you showed every picture on the television screen. The strike of the Air Force on Pakistani ammunition dump was flashed across the screens. Today your technology is far more sophisticated.
Forget about sending a reconnaissance aircraft, your satellites provide you information on a minute-to-minute basis. Similarly, when missiles were fired, every missile has a camera in its cone, on its nose, and it keeps relaying information until the point of its impact. That must have all been there with the Air Force. Why are you (government) not showing this? That is what we want to know.
I think a lot of people want to know, and I want to know. It’s been a protocol in all wars of the past. In Second World War, the Air Force used to go and bomb German factories and dams and military installations…and the reports used to be given by the force commander. The next morning, a reconnaissance aircraft would be sent to verify the reports.
Even in those days, fighter jets carried a gun camera movie and intelligence officers would screen the movie to confirm whether the pilot was telling the truth. These are tried and tested methods, so what are you trying to hide here?
It’s become a CM versus PM narrative in Punjab.
(The Prime Minister is being criticised) because the fight is for a national government — my fight (Assembly polls) will come in three years. Now the fight is for a new Prime Minister, a new government (at the Centre). I think the time has come, and people of Punjab and India want a change.
Priyanka Gandhi has proved to be a big draw in the state and elsewhere. Do you think making her the face of the Congress would have worked better?
No, I don’t think so. She is complementing her brother and she is getting a lot of response, as I saw twice in Bathinda and Gurdaspur. Rahul (Gandhi) is doing a great job also — his openness and frankness is what people like. People like someone to be frank and open, and I think that is what Rahul is doing.
You mentioned that Sunil Jakhar (Gurdaspur candidate) could be a future chief minister. Don’t you think it will start a race in the party?
I said I have known Sunil for a very long time. He is a very intelligent and very forward-looking person, a person who knows how to handle things, and I said someday you will see him as the chief minister of Punjab. I didn’t say the next government. I said you will see him as a future chief minister.
What about the (Navjot) Sidhu situation?
Well, Sidhu has gone off to campaign elsewhere. I have told him that 17th (May 17, the last day of campaigning for final phase of polling) he should give to Punjab. Let’s hope he does that. After all, Punjab is his state. How can you avoid your own state? You are going all over the country.
I went around the state and found that people are worried about drugs, and employment. Drugs are yet to be wiped out in Punjab.
That is correct. Drugs gave not been totally wiped out. We have said we have broken the backbone, which was our commitment. (But) drugs are still being traded. Can you imagine that he Kashmir police caught 30 kg drugs at Uri, (which was) headed for Amritsar? Then we found 100 pounds of drugs at Kandla port (in Gujarat), (also) destined for Amritsar.
So although we are checking at every point, we have recently started a new thing: our police is in close cooperation on the drugs issue with police departments of various states so that we can exchange information and work on that. Do you know a lot of our drugs come from Delhi?
What about unemployment? Most youngsters are just looking to go abroad.
It has become a big tragedy in a way: if somebody’s parents has 2 acres, they get them to sell the land and send them abroad. They go abroad and leave their parents in the lurch. It is becoming a big problem. That is why we are concentrating on industrialisation of Punjab so that we can create jobs here and keep our children here.
There are people who see you as a Prime Ministerial candidate.
No, no, no, not at all. Look, I only have one ambition in life: to see Punjab on top again. That is all.
Is Capt Amarinder, the military historian, working on some new projects?
Well, I will be writing on the Gallipoli battle (in Turkey, as part of First World War). But before I do that, I will be writing on the troubled period of Punjab. I was part of it, I kept notes, and I am in a position to bring out the truth.