He describes Punjab as the most unexpected place he could be posted as governor. Now as his five-year tenure is coming to an end on January 22, former Union home minister Shivraj Patil, 80, said in an interview with HT assistant editor Sukhdeep Kaur that he had no regrets as Punjab governor but a few as Chandigarh administrator, where crucial projects were delayed.
HT: As the outgoing Punjab governor and UT administrator, what are your regrets and achievements?
Patil: Each day here was a happy one for me. My tongue had more rest than it had in the past. I have no regrets as Punjab governor but I do have one or two as Chandigarh administrator, especially that the Metro project could not take off. I did not agree with the union urban development ministry proposal to hand over the Chandigarh metro rail project to the private sector; the government has to be part of executing projects such as this. Also, taking Metro underground would require excavation but it’d be more feasible than running it over the ground, which would entail the tedious process of land acquisition that may run into legal tangles and delay the project endlessly. They (the Centre) can bring in the private sector after I go but I do not agree to the proposal. The other regret is that Chandigarh’s master plan took a long while (to be finalised) and though it has been approved by the Centre, we have not received any details, so far.
How in your opinion has been the performance of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and how can the Congress make a comeback?
The Modi government has, so far, not made any big mistake. It appears to be cautious. But the media had a big role in its victory, as big as ever seen. The Congress should not wait for the ruling party to make mistakes. The biggest challenge is not to think that we have lost everything. The party will have to do certain things boldly, like speak for the Food Security Act, women’s reservation bill and electoral reforms.
What is your opinion on the communal overtones of programmes such as‘ghar wapsi’?
I would comment on such issues after I leave this post. But a government has to carry everybody along and be acceptable to all.
As Punjab governor, how did you view the Parkash Singh Badal government on governance, on the drug issue especially? How were your relations with the chief minister?
Do you want me to pass judgment on the government? Why should I praise or criticise? Be it drugs or any other issue, neither the media nor the politicians should judge without hearing both sides. Whether the government has been good or it has committed mistakes is for the people to decide. An opinion should be formed based on all aspects. Personally, I had very good relations with the chief minister.
The Punjab Congress is witnessing intense factionalism. Can it afford this at a time when the BJP is riding the popularity wave?
Which party does not have factionalism? Discipline can be enforced but the warring factions in the Congress will have to understand that thinking about self-interest wouldn’t help. They have to be broadminded and coordinate with each other.
Do you think the governors should be posted on the whims of the party in power? Were you also expecting to be posted to the Northeast or sacked after the NDA came to power?
We had been good to them when we were in power and they have behaved in the same manner. Being posted to the Northeast is no punishment but a challenging assignment. I also posted a few governors to the Northeast and they, too, had resented it.
Your book, the ‘Odyssey of My Life’, is out. Will it rake any controversies, as some books have last year?
Even my publishers asked me if there was any “masala” in it. It is what the media wants. But I have neither tried to judge others nor defend myself in the book. I have written about problems and solutions on issues such as national security, foreign policy, judiciary, legislatures, social structures, marriage etc. I have delved not too much in the past but more in the present and future. In a few decades, I see all vehicles running on solar energy and pre-fabricated structures solving the housing problem. I have written that there may not be another World War but terror activities will increase, and the answer is more policemen and better equipment, communication and transport for them. We have to create communal harmony and try to win the war on terror not by weapons alone but also through social, economic and other means.
What will you do after you move out of Raj Bhawan? Will you go back to active politics?
I have already started wearing the black coat. I will get back to law practice and take up special cases. I will read, write, look after my agricultural land and spend time with family, friends and grandchildren. If the party gives me a role, I’ll be available; but if it asks me to retire and rest, I will not have any complaints. I was a reluctant politician but once I entered politics, I enjoyed every bit of it.
You do not believe in criticising others but you did face a lot of bad press as Union home minister and an unceremonious ouster as well.
If it gave them pleasure to criticise me, I let them have it. I took it all in my stride. But overall, the media has not been unkind to me.