After an extended hibernation since his none-too-impressive performance in the May Lok Sabha elections, People’s Party of Punjab founder Manpreet Singh Badal, estranged nephew of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, is back in action, doing what he is good at – railing against the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government on just about any issue that comes his way.
In a renewed strategy to resurrect him politically, Manpreet is also testing the waters for a “united opposition” – apparently with the Congress – to take on the ruling alliance in the upcoming civic polls in Punjab.
In a free-wheeling interview with Special Correspondent Prabhjit Singh, on Wednesday, the former finance minister was especially vitriolic against the Badals while sounding optimistic on his political comeback in the near future. Excerpts:
With the MC polls around the corner, how do you see the role of the PPP?
These elections are extremely important to us in order to consolidate our grassroots cadres. Our aim is to come up in strength with at least 150 councillors across the state. The party already dominates in three zila parishads and 45 blocks, which is a great morale-booster.
Do you intend to have any tie-ups?
This is high time all opposition parties united for an effective fight against the ruling alliance. I have already had a talk with (Partap Singh) Bajwa and Hardev Arshi (of the CPI) for seat adjustment. Bajwa assured me that seat-sharing could be worked out, and also told the party cadres to begin negotiations wherever it worked.
Let me tell you that these (local bodies) elections are usually not free and fair and, therefore, all opposition parties need to come together. The Akali Dal is currently on a weak footing.
The PPP was nowhere as compared to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Lok Sabha polls despite strong factors like law and order, drugs and mining mafia and financial crunch working against the SAD-BJP combine.
The PPP had done a lot of groundwork that actually benefited the AAP in Punjab. This includes ideologically building up people’s mindset for a third alternative (to both the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine).
We created the atmosphere by setting the agenda for people. I quit as finance minister because of the wrong policies of the government, and this gave people hope to topple the regime.
So what went wrong? Why did the PPP not contest the Lok Sabha polls pan Punjab?
You see, the united opposition was the need of the hour. The result in Bathinda rattled the SAD. We had contested the 2012 assembly elections pan Punjab, and the results had shown that a united opposition was needed to stall the SAD-BJP alliance.
But you never drew a line as finance minister, never said no to what was happening to the state finances?
What more was expected of me than to have resigned and put my political career at stake? I raised the flag as the debt began only during the Badals’ rule. Today, I ask Badal — did he inherit debt from (Partap Singh) Kairon? What is his legacy for Punjab in the next 20 years?
What, according to you, is the SAD today as you seek the mandate for a third alternative?
The SAD is just Badals’ ‘jugaad’ (tool) to fill his coffers and prop his family as ministers in Punjab and at the Centre. The PPP, on the other hand, is a party of the people working in the interest of democracy.
You are still regarded as one of the ruling dynasty. Does the Badal tag haunt you?
Badal is the name of our village. I cannot help it as it is like a cross around my neck. But unlike them, I am ideologically stern against using the party platform for personal gains.
Why have you been silent against the senior Badal in your public addresses?
No, it is not the case as I have said so much just now. And I say it again — let Badal tell me about his vision or even about his party’s future the way things are moving at present.
Is Congress your future party?
The PPP stands firm in existence. People also talk of my joining the BJP or even going back to the SAD, which is unfortunate. It is sad that people find it hard to digest a third alternative in the state that could actually work.
What is your take on Sukhbir Badal as the future leader?
Sukhbir is born into a political family, like me. ‘Taaqat to kamayee, par izzat nahi kamayee’ (He has gained political power, but has not earned people’s respect).