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I rate Badal as a wicked politician

Having served as governor of 3 states, former CM Surjit Singh Barnala is back in Punjab after 21 years. Due to his failing health, he has decided not to contest the polls and opted to mentor Sanjha Morcha, but he may still campaign. In an interview to Gurpreet Singh Nibber, he says his perception of Congress has changed for the better, but SAD ceases to be the party it was since the Badals reduced it to a family fiefdom.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2011 11:05 IST

HT: What role do you see for yourself in Punjab politics?

Barnala: My role at this stage is that of a guide. I am patron of the Sanjha Morcha. Though I will not contest the assembly elections, I may still go out to campaign against the SAD. One thing is for sure: I am not going to retire from politics.

Do you think there is scope for a third front? Such attempts made in the past have fizzled out. We should always hope for political diversification in Punjab, a change from the Congress-SAD cycle. Manpreet, a better Badal of the clan, is making attempts to evolve a third front. How successful he will be only time can tell. But he is surely making a lot of effort and I have high hopes from him.

There were reports of the SAD (Longowal) merging with the Congress. Your views?

I can’t comment much on the issue as the party is headed by my wife. But I want the party to stay where it is right now. I would not recommend its merger with the Congress.

Your son Gaganjit Singh met Punjab Congress affairs incharge GS Charak and expressed his willingness to join the Congress. Are you with him? I have come to know that Gaganjit is meeting Congress leaders, but I have left the decision to him. He is wise enough to take his decisions. If he wants he can join the Congress, test the troubled waters and learn from experience.

You met Manpreet Badal on Tuesday evening. What issues were discussed?

I told Manpreet that he was doing certain things without taking everyone into confidence and many people associated with his party were not liking it. He accepted my advice and promised me that he would evolve a consensus on all major decisions. Two trusted lieutenants of Manpreet Badal—Jagbir Brar and Kushaldeep Dhillon—left him last week. How would it affect the functioning of the PPP? It is certainly a setback for the PPP and Manpreet, but I am sure he would recover from it.

What is your claim to Akali legacy?

Out of 87 years of my life, I have devoted 80 to SAD. I’ve been with the party in difficult times and pulled it out of trouble on numerous occasions. The party too has given me a lot. I remained the Punjab chief minister, union minister and governor of three states.

During your tenure as CM in mid-‘80s, there was a move to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab. But it never happened and leaders of your party still blame you for the fiasco. What exactly happened then?

Going by the recommendations of the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, the central government had agreed to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab on January 26, 1985, but the Rajiv Gandhi government backtracked at the last moment. It pulled out on January 25 when everything was settled with Haryana. When I protested, the Desai commission was set up to have a re-look into the Hindi-speaking areas of Punjab. The Centre subsequently decided to hold a census in the Hindi-speaking areas of Punjab adjoining Haryana. Central forces were sent for the exercise. Punjab agreed to transfer 11 of its villages near Ambala to Haryana for setting up their new capital, but Chandigarh was never transferred to us. The Congress government at the Centre hoodwinked Punjab. But the role of Capt Amarinder Singh, who was a minister in my cabinet, is commendable. He ensured that the Punjab border was well-guarded to prevent any outsider from entering Punjab from Haryana to fudge the census.

Your contemporaries in your party, including Parkash Singh Badal, blame you for the fiasco and say you should have resigned from the post of CM. Your comments. Why should I have resigned? Oh, Parkash Singh Badal can say whatever he likes. My government may not have been successful in transferring Chandigarh to Punjab, but I managed to prevent the transfer of Abohar and Fazilka to Haryana. No one has the right to point fingers at me. The situation during those days was so volatile that the real challenge was to maintain peace and harmony.

Your views about Parkash Singh Badal, your contemporary?

(Laughs) Parkash Singh Badal, who is younger to me by two years, and I worked together in the Akali Dal for many years. He has a style of working silently. In 1970, he took over as chief minister from Justice Gurnam Singh for the first time despite the fact that he lacked support. He has not done any good to the state, which has seen a decline under his leadership. I rate him as a wicked politician, but please don’t write it (again laughs).

By supporting the Sanjha Morcha, aren’t you opposing the SAD, a party which has given you so much?

I am not opposed to the SAD. I am opposed to the Badals, who have reduced the party to a family fiefdom. The real SAD was led by the likes of Sant Fateh Singh, Sant Chanan Singh, Master Tara Singh and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. What we see nowadays is not the SAD, but a family party (Badal Dal), and I have nothing to do with it.

Have you got a soft corner for the Congress?

I have no soft corner for the Congress, but I think things have drastically changed in the party in the past 26 years. It is not the same party as it was two decades ago.