Former Union minister and Congress national spokesperson Manish Tewari is believed to have got the Anandpur Sahib ticket from the party due to the backing of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, despite Rahul Gandhi reportedly refusing to clear his name in two meetings. Tewari, who was an MP from 2009 to 2014 from Ludhiana, is up against the ‘outsider’ tag, plus being a Hindu in the Sikh constituency of Anandpur Sahib.
Punjab Congress president Sunil Kumar Jakhar was said to be unhappy about the ticket to you… Many say you settled for the seat after being refused Ludhiana and Chandigarh.
The entire Congress is together. Leaders, activists who I have worked with over the past 35 years, in the NSUI, Congress… all are united. We are fighting to win… The love and affection I have got are unprecedented…
I do not want to go into unnecessary speculation or unnecessary diatribe. I think the battle we are fighting is far, far more important than these trivialities. This is a battle for the soul of India. This is a fight for who are going to form the next national government. This is not an election to form the government in Punjab, or a zila parishad or block samiti… It is a referendum on the five years of the Modi government. It is a litmus test of the mal-governance, divisiveness, destruction of economy and brutalisation of institutions over the past five years.
My campaign will be based on these issues and the commitments that we have made in our manifesto, the NYAY scheme for the poor, the other issues of the marginalised and impoverished. That is going to be the basic thrust of our campaign.
Do you think there is anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress in Punjab?
The anti-incumbency visible today is against the representatives of the BJP-Akali Dal. The manner in which their MPs are being chased out, village after village, shows they have not shown their face in the constituency in five years. The incumbency is not against the Punjab government but the MP… It is also a referendum on the NDA government (at the Centre), in which the Akali Dal has a minister.
And it is not that we have not delivered. The situation with regard to narcotics is much better than it was two years ago, farm loan waiver has been extended, other commitments are being fulfilled.
Who do you see as your Opposition?
The Akalis carry the baggage of the bad deeds of the Bargari episode (the desecration of the Sikh holy book and subsequent police firings at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura), and the efforts that have been made to subvert the investigation. The AAP has imploded completely. The Congress is united. If you look at the battlefield from the perch of the Congress, you do not see one army against you, you see four-five different vigilante groups.
What about the fact that a Hindu has never won from Anandpur Sahib?
(Showing a picture on his drawing room wall) That is the first cabinet of PEPSU (the Patiala and East Punjab States Union, comprising eight princely states, which existed between 1948 and 1956). My maternal grandfather, Sardar Tirath Singh Guram, is in the picture, with Giani Zail Singh and Maharaja Yadavindra Singh (the last Maharaja of Patiala). My grandfather was deputy chief minister of PEPSU. Number two, my father, who sacrificed his life for the unity and integrity of Punjab, taught us that the essence of Punjab is Punjabi and Punjabiat (Tewari’s father V N Tiwari, a professor at Panjab University and an author, had been killed at the height of the Sikh militancy in Punjab in 1984).
So, it is criminal to divide Punjab into Hindus and Sikhs. Those people who are trying to pedal this line are going down a very dangerous trail. And what the terrorists could not do from 1980 to 1995, these people are doing. Plus, I am a half Sikh, my mother was a Jat Sikh.
Rahul Gandhi was also said to be opposed to your nomination, as you were seen to have deserted Ludhiana in the last elections (he had refused to contest, citing health grounds).
If the Congress leadership had been upset with me, they would not have given me a ticket. I did not fight 2014 as I had health issues. I completed my term from 2009-2014. Check out if any MP has done in the last 70 years what I did in those five years… For the past five years, I have fought every day for the party. I have been the most visible face in the media space.
We will serve Anandpur Sahib with the same diligence, conviction and commitment as we served Ludhiana.
Do you see any Modi effect in Punjab?
There is no Modi wave anywhere. In Phase 1, 91 seats went to polls. The BJP has done very badly in these 91 seats. They won’t get even 10.