Predicting that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will bounce back to power with an absolute majority in the forthcoming Punjab Assembly polls, former chief minister and president, SAD, Prakash Singh Badal accused the Congress government led by Amrinder Singh of “failure on all fronts”.
“There is no rule of law in the state. The government is being run on the whims and fancies of the chief minister. There is rajwarashahi and tanashahi and no respect for the rule of law. My first priority will be to restore this and uphold justice so that there is peace and harmony,”Badal told the Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Queried on who would be the “captain” if the SAD-BJP combine wins the poll, Badal said it had been unanimously decided to project him as the “top man”. However, he was elusive about the role his son Sukhbir Singh Badal was likely to play in the future.
“Succession is never automatic and one has to work towards achieving goals. My son’s name keeps cropping up the same way it does in other political families. But everyone has to work. I started as a sarpanch and became the youngest chief minister of Punjab.”
When asked what would be the equation with the BJP given that the two allies have not been able to agree on seat-sharing, the veteran leader said it was a minor matter.
“We have no differences and our criteria will be the winnability factor.” He disagreed with the suggestion that the BJP could be a liability because of its diminishing hold over the Hindus in Punjab, and in view of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s conviction.
Badal said the state economy has become a cause for concern because of Amarinder Singh’s wrong policies. The growth rate in agriculture has halved compared to what it was during the Akali regime. There is a huge gap because of wrong policies and the prices of various kinds of inputs have gone up manifold. “Due to depletion of land, more fertilisers have to be used. This, in turn, affects prices. The price of diesel has doubled. While we used to increase the price of wheat by Rs 43 to Rs 45 per quintal every time, the rise has been Rs 10 during the Congress rule.”
“Look at what they have done to the industry. Wrong policy led to the closure of the oil refinery. Industry is shifting to Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir as there are no incentives here. In addition, nothing has been done to generate employment and prices of essential commodities are unaffordable. The concessions, we got during Vajpayee’s regime have disappeared. The power situation is dismal and there is no planning."
On whether Manmohan Singh’s Prime Ministership and General JJ Singh’s becoming the Chief of Army Staff would help the Congress, Badal ruled out any such possibility.
Does he believe in politics of vendetta? “We Akalis have no feelings of revenge towards anyone.”
Rubbishing allegations made by the Akalis, Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh accused Prakash Singh Badal and the Shiromani Akali Dal of misleading people by presenting fudged facts and doctored data.
“Everyone here has seen through their game and no one believes them anymore. In fact, our credibility is a big issue in the forthcoming election and people have high expectations. We have fulfilled the promises that we made before the last election. Over the past five years, there has been a lot of change and all-round development. My vikas yatra drew people even from Akali bastions. We have improved upon basic infrastructure and made heavy investments in projects which will provide employment to a large number of our youth.”
Asked whether he would be able to retain the state for the Congress, he said people’s overwhelming support indicated that they were happier during his regime compared to that of the Akalis. “Today’s Punjab has 75 per cent of people under 40. They are not interested in the Akali/SGPC 18th century agenda.They are interested in the future. They know that the future is with the Congress and not with them."
Has usurping the Akali agenda of celebrating religious occasions helped him boost his party’s chances? “The Congress has been a secular party. We celebrate festivals of all communities. It has so happened that several centenaries pertaining to the Sikhs have fallen in the last two years. As the chief minister, it is my duty to celebrate them. These are people’s festivals and not of the Akalis alone. I have also facilitated pilgrimages to Sikh shrines in Pakistan and the Sikh Sangat has built a sarai there. I have taken mud from Harmander Sahib for restoration of shrines in Pakistan.” So what makes him so sure that the Akalis will lose? Amrinder says the party is being run by Badal’s son and many senior Akali leaders were unhappy about it. Many of them privately admitted to friends that the majority of tickets would be distributed by Sukhbir, and not his father.
What about dissidence within the Congress ranks and claims that PCC chief Shamsher Singh Dullo and he do not see eye-to-eye on many issues? “Dullo and I get along very well. As far as dissidence is concerned, the major problem was over three years ago. Dullo and I had different views on opening the doors to outsiders. I believe that anyone who expresses faith in the Congress ideology and Sonia Gandhi’s leadership should be brought in.”
Does he favour an alliance with the Left? He says he would rather go it alone. “Last time, we gave them 13 seats but they lost 11. It We will not allow the Left parties to use us. They normally concentrate only on seats which they contest.”