“This is my last election and I want to end my political career with the satisfaction of rescuing Punjab and its people from the vicious grip of the corrupt Badals,” Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh told The Indian Express. “I want to ensure the defeat of all the top Akali leaders, beginning with Parkash Singh Badal. Hence I want to fight Badal on his home turf, Lambi… I want to retire comfortable in the knowledge that I did my bit for the welfare of the state and helped free the people from the clutches of the Akalis,” he said.
Excerpts from an interview:
What issue do you feel will work most against SAD-BJP and for the Congress?
If I were to list out a single issue that I feel overshadows all else, it is the misgovernance of the Badals, which has accentuated anti-incumbency while leading to all else, including drugs and a whole lot of other mafias, such as land, liquor, sand, cable TV, as well as the multiple scams that have deprived the state exchequer of hundreds of crores of rupees. The total collapse of law and order, the atrocities against Dalits, the economic, agricultural and industrial devastation suffered by the state under SAD-BJP rule, the plight of the unemployed youth, as well as other sections of society, are some of the other issues that will definitely play a role in influencing the voters. Demonetisation too is an issue. While we support any move that curbs black money, the way notebandi was implemented caused immense problems to the people, particularly the poor.
The Congress is still struggling to finalise its candidates. You have been camping in New Delhi and not in Punjab.
There is no struggle to finalise candidates. In fact the bulk of our candidates have already been announced with only a handful pending, which is the case even with SAD-BJP. I admit there has been some delay in finalising the tickets but that has been mainly on account of the fact that the Congress high command had been under pressure to manage elections in four other states.
What are your plans for Malwa, a region that is considered the decision maker for forming a government in Punjab, and where AAP has been focusing since bagging four Lok Sabha seats in 2014?
Our focus on Malwa is not limited to elections and our engagement with the people is continuous… Having said that, and talking solely from the election point of view, we have chosen the best and most winnable candidates, with a strong agenda for the region’s development. The problems of the area are unique and we have gone for candidates who understand and relate to those issues and are committed to addressing them. Our manifesto also has several promises aimed at redressing the problems plaguing the region, including resource degradation, environmental devastation, water scarcity, among others. With Dalits a key segment of this region, we also have in place a comprehensive agenda for their uplift…
In how many of the 117 seats you are certain of victory?
I am confident of a clear majority and my inputs suggest that the number will cross 70. We want a clear two-thirds majority, as we want to enact legislation that would ensure protection of Punjab waters and other important matters.
SAD has fielded Gen J J Singh against you in Patiala. How do you see it?
Frankly, it’s a no-contest and I’m surprised that a senior and experienced officer, who has held such important positions as chief of Army staff and governor, should allow himself to be used politically and let himself be demeaned in such a manner only because SAD-BJP wanted to make a political statement… Unfortunately, in their desperation to undermine the Congress, which is clearly way ahead of all other parties in the fray, SAD-BJP is resorting to all kind of gimmickry and low-level tactics. The choice of General Singh is another such tactic through which the ruling alliance wants to divert public attention to frivolous issues.
How do you rate the Aam Aadmi Party’s prospects?
Let me put it this way. AAP started its political innings in Punjab on an extremely positive note… But the party has long since exposed itself to be an organisation comprising individuals who are only interested in advancing their personal interests and not in the welfare of the state. The collapse of the party, which is gripped by serious and widespread allegations of sale of tickets and sex scandals, has been witnessed by the entire state in the past few weeks and the people are now completely disillusioned with not just the party but also its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, who has exposed himself as a selfish and petty liar only interested in grabbing the chief ministerial post in Punjab by hook or by crook… I don’t see AAP making much [headway] in the state in these elections.
Do you think the Congress’s continuing slide across the country, including the municipal poll defeat in Chandigarh, will impact its prospects in Punjab?
Well, the Chandigarh polls were not decided on any serious issue, and were hence neither an endorsement of the BJP’s policies nor a negation of Congress policies. The Punjab elections, on the other hand, are going to decide the state’s fate in the context of the serious issues plaguing it… And, without getting into a debate on the Congress performance as a national party which I feel is doing quite well across the country, let us also not forget that these are assembly polls that we are talking about… In this case, the people of Punjab need a change for the better, which they know only the Congress can provide them.